A Walk-Through the Queensland State Planning Guidelines

As might be expected, the Queensland State Government has attempted in the past to address the very issues we are concerned with here today in Greenbank.  Back in 1993 they issued ‘State Planning Policy 1/92’: Development and the Conservation of Agricultural Land.

Policy 1/92 was primarily concerned with protecting ‘good quality agricultural land’ from the encroachment of urban and industrial developments. A glance at the ‘Policy Principles’ on page 6 of the policy (see below) summarize this admirably.

policy principles

To me, two things about Policy 1/92 stand out right away with respect to how it translates to our situation here in Greenbank.  Firstly, Greenbank contains no areas of ‘good quality agricultural land’ that might need protecting. Secondly, in our case it is intensive hydroponic horticulture (which does not depend on good land) encroaching on pre-existing rural residential properties that has created the problem.  It is clear from the policy itself that the parties drafting this policy never envisioned that this would be the case.

Planning Policy 1/92 was released in 1993 along with another supporting document entitled Planning Guidelines: Separating Agricultural and Residential Land Uses.  According to the explanation on the ‘Preface’ page of this document, these guidelines were supposed to provide “technical advice and guidance to local governments, developers, consultants, and landholders on minimising conflicts between farming activities and residential uses” which is Principle Number 8 of the Planning Policy as can be read above on the ‘Policy Principles’ page we’ve provided. Below is a copy of this ‘Preface Page’.

The Planning Guidelines: Separating Agricultural and Residential Land Uses can be viewed online in its entirety at:

http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/land/planning/pdf/public/plan_guide.pdf

For the purpose of our discussion here I will present some pages from this document within this blog.  As can be seen from the ‘Preface’ page above, various bodies were involved in drafting Policy 1/92 and its attendant ‘Guidelines’. Prominent among these bodies was one ‘Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers’.  We know this body by another name now, to wit: Growcom.  This is interesting in light of the current CEO of Growcom, Mr Alex Livingstone’s recent forays in the local press.

Now we move on to page 1 of the Guidelines – the Introduction with the sub-headings ‘Purpose’, ‘Background’ and ‘The Environmental Protection Act’.  Here is this page in full:

On the page above note particularly the items 1.3, 1.5, 1.8c and 1.9.  These points have direct bearing on the situation in Greenbank.  Citing1.9 above, this clause clearly and without equivocation states:  “The separation distances recommended in this document are drawn from relevant State and Commonwealth legislation and guidelines, notably the EP Act, relevant research, and the sources cited.”

So these State guidelines supporting Planning Policy 1/92 are deemed to be the definitive empirically derived recommendations for buffer areas as agreed upon by all the ‘reference group’ members listed, including Growcom.

The Guidelines define a ‘buffer area’ (zone) as: ‘an area of land separating adjacent land uses that is managed for the purpose of mitigating impacts of one use or another.  A buffer area consists of a separation distance and one or more buffer elements.’   (Buffer elements are such things as a vegetation buffer or acoustic barrier.)

On this same page (Page 4) is another defined term which is referred to as a ‘sensitive receptor’.  A sensitive receptor is defined as:

1)     A dwelling, mobile home, or caravan park, residential marina, or other residential development.

2)    A motel, hotel, or hostel

3)    A childcare centre, kindergarten, school, university or other educational institution; or

4)    A medical centre or hospital.

Why they didn’t just say ‘a place where people are’ is beyond me.  Clearly, a sensitive receptor is a nearby bi-pedal carbon-based life form – a human or group of humans. Lastly, from this same page the Guidelines define ‘separation distance’ as ‘the total linear distance between a source and a sensitive receptor.’ The graphic below appears on page 4 as a further explanation of terms.

So far so good. We’ve stated our policies, cited our reference group, boasted of our scientific credentials, explained our intentions and defined our terms. Now, what about those buffer areas?

After considering a host of planning schemes, land use strategies, temporary buffers, development assessment provisions, previous research on spray drift, conflict assessments, and other related matters on pages 4-9 we finally come to the nitty-gritty on page 10.

In subsection 3.10, ‘Buffer Area Width’ of page 10 we finally read …’Based on the available research on chemical spray drift, the planning guidelines have adopted a minimum width of 300 metres where open ground conditions apply; and a minimum width of 40 metres where a vegetated buffer element can be satisfactorily implemented and maintained …

Subsection 3.11 then ‘assumes’ farmers and contractors will carry out their activities in accordance with the ‘Agricultural Chemicals Distribution and Control Act 1966’.  Yes, well, they assume and we live in hope.

In subsection 3.12 they then admit that even these recommended buffers will not capture 100% of the chemical spray drift, but ‘may’ reduce spray drift to less than 1% at a sensitive receptor if the buffer area is managed correctly. So, no guarantees here of course, but this may be very effective.

The next few pages of the guidelines deal with issues of odour and noise and give various formulae to calculate how these can be quantified. By the time you get to page 17 they discuss ‘dust, smoke, and ash’ and how buffer areas can mitigate these problems.

Finally on page 19 there are some tables and a graphic to portray in simpler terms how buffer areas are meant to work.

The rest of the document deals with all sorts of issues from conflict resolution to the sundry departmental bodies that have a stake and other related issues. The entire document is well worth a read to anyone concerned with the issues of separating horticultural activity from we sensitive receptors. (You gotta love the language employed. Who the hell writes this stuff?)

For the purpose of this particular post we need not deal with the Planning Guidelines further. The point has obviously been made about what the minimum recommended width of said buffer areas should be.

I have what I consider to be a valid personal experience with just this sort of buffer area discussion.  Our house and water tank is approximately100 metres  from an intensive hydroponic/greenhouse style farm. In our case, about half that distance is mostly cleared and the other 50 metres (on our property) is heavily vegetated with native sclerophyll forest. In our 12 years out here I’ve only experienced an odour from that farm a handful of times and our water appears to be fine.  We keep parrots and they are excellent ‘sensitive receptors’ to monitor for any ill health effects. Everything seems to be fine with us and ours. This leads me to believe that the above guidelines are –in fact – a good place to start.

Our neighbours who are directly adjacent to this same farm are not so lucky. Their house and rainwater tank are 15 metres from the greenhouses. They are too frightened to drink their rainwater after the whole family became ill from it.  Their dog has experienced a poisoning episode that nearly killed him (and he’s a big 80 kg monster). The noise, odour, dust, and spray drift issues they have had to put up with are extremely disturbing to any fair-minded person. What’s more, being cheek by jowl with this intensive agricultural industry (and make no mistake – it resembles an industry far more than it resembles a ‘farm’ in my book) has de-valued their property considerably. This is merely a guess on my part and I can’t quantify it definitively, but my best guess is that being adjacent to this farm has knocked $100,000 off the value of my neighbour’s block – if they were ever able to find a buyer. This is just my considered opinion.

Kim Downs

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