These are strange times in which we live. Putting the priority health factors aside, COVID-19 has given our nation's economy a seismic shake-up. One aspect of that is the closure of our nation's border to international travellers and migrants. The border closure is impacting all sectors of the economy to some degree and in various ways. The agricultural sector, as an example, is grappling with reduced labour-force resources (e.g. backpackers) and the implications of that on seasonal crop harvesting (among other things).
The likely prolonged closure of our border will affect our nation's demographic profile and certainly our population, by number. A slowed rate of population growth has wide-ranging implications, certainly in respect of the supply and demand for housing and other urban development. With a reduced rate of population growth comes a general slowing of urban development activity, to the detriment of those employed in that industry and those indirectly reliant on the economic output of that industry.
In a column titled "Farmers must be heard over noise nuisance" (published by Queensland Farmers' Federation on July 15), Allan Dingle identified that in many local government areas in Queensland "farmers are experiencing encroachment by commercial and residential land uses and attrition of existing buffer zones because of poor urban planning".
This is true. Decisions in land use planning can give rise to land use conflicts and related broader issues. So while a slowing of urban development activity might be rejoiced by some, it's likely to be a short-lived slowing and we need to deal with the underlying reasons that generate conflict between agricultural and urban uses that are adjacent or proximate to each other.
Planning legislation in Queensland already protects existing lawful uses. A land use lawfully operating from a premise when, for example, a change to a planning scheme takes place may continue operating in accordance with the original requirements and the use does not need to cease or change. The obvious example in this context is where a council amends its planning scheme to allow for urban development nearer to or adjoining existing agricultural uses. In that case, the law is clear that the operators of the agricultural uses do not need to curtail their operations, provided they remain compliant with relevant laws (such as relevant environment protection laws for noise emissions).
Of course, this legal protection does nothing to prevent complaints being made to council by those new neighbouring residents. In handling such complaints, the council might justifiably presume that the new resident to the area accepted exposure to reasonable off-site impacts from neighbouring agricultural uses when that resident made an informed choice to live in that location.
More broadly, the challenge is for town planners to make decisions which protect the rights of farmers.
- Vanessa Maruna is a partner and Andrew Magoffin a lawyer at Holding Redlich.