THE Peninsula branch of the Victorian Farmers Federation has formally asked the Mornington Peninsula Shire to employ two new officers, whose role would be to protect agricultural land in the Green Wedge.
Submitting a recommendation to the 2018/2019 shire pre-budget, the VFF has asked for help to defend the shire’s $1 billion local agricultural output.
Green Wedges are defined as being non-urban areas of metropolitan Melbourne that sit outside the urban growth boundary, with 17 areas identified across a number of shires.
“There is a huge diversity of agriculture on the Peninsula,” president of the VFF Peninsula branch, Eddie Matt, said.
“Beef, sheep, goats, vineyards, horticulture, approximately 30 per cent of all Victoria’s chicken meat comes from the Peninsula, and it is home to the largest strawberry farm in the Southern Hemisphere.”
The VFF would like to see a dedicated agricultural officer, ideally with an agronomist degree and five years’ experience in a relative field, who would be on the shire staff to promote the agricultural sector and to offer expertise in making informed statutory town planning decisions.
A similar position – a shire employee with ag experience – was previously employed at Mornington Peninsula Shire – one of only three in the state, but the position was later shared out to other departments.
The VFF would also like to see a dedicated planning enforcement officer employed, whose role would be to focus solely on the Green Wedge, including farm management plans.
“The planning enforcement team (at the shire) is significantly under-resourced, and is having to prioritise some cases and therefore neglect the balance of cases,” Mr Matt said.
“Planning permits for accommodation, section 173 agreements and farm management plans are being determined by statutory planners without appropriate back up.
“The Green Wedge zone is a rural zone, not a residential zone.”
Currently, 70 per cent of the Mornington Peninsula Shire is listed as being in the Green Wedge – and the VFF intends it to remain so.
In a nutshell, Mr Matt said his organisation was concerned planning decisions were not being made with sustainable agriculture in mind.
“We are Melbourne’s food bowl – one vegetable farm alone sends eight trucks each day to Melbourne for domestic consumption and export.
“Despite this, the Green Wedge zone on the Peninsula is under constant assault from land uses that are not specified as purposes of the zone.”
Mr Matt said that in addition, land developers were “constantly looking to establish” commercial type uses on the Peninsula in the Green Wedge.
“Compared to more urban areas, the land was cheap – but only compared to the commercial and industrial zones – where these uses more properly belong,” he said.
“As each incursion is successful, it drives up land prices and further undermines agriculture.
“The tourists come down to see the landscapes, they don’t come down to see suburbia – if you want to maintain the Green Wedge, you have to maintain it in agriculture,” Mr Matt said.
Mr Matt has farmed his property, near Rye, since 1975.
Producing Angus/Friesian cross cattle, Mr Matt owns and operates the successful Hillock Downs farm-gate store.
The last farmer in his peri-urban area, Mr Matt knows first-hand the challenges facing those trying to make a living in the Green Wedge.
“We need more farm gate stores to not only encourage agri-tourism, but to also help farmers on the urban fringe make a living.
According to the Mornington Peninsula Shire, the Green Wedge “is considered an agricultural zone and is home to a vibrant and diverse range of agri-tourism businesses such as food, wine and nature based activities that are a valuable asset to the Mornington Peninsula thriving economy and tourism experience”.
Shire mayor, Bryan Payne, said the Peninsula was considered one of Melbourne’s most important long term assets.
“It is a key element in the sustainability and liveability of metropolitan Melbourne, as well as being critical to the Peninsula’s character and the amenity of its residents and visitors alike,” he said.
“The special value of the Peninsula’s rural area has been recognised over a long period, being Melbourne’s ‘playground’ since the 19th century and the first area to be subject to a Statement of Planning Policy in the late 1960s.
“More recently, the value of the Peninsula has been recognised by the introduction of an Urban Growth Boundary and the designation of the Peninsula’s rural area as a Green Wedge.”
Green Wedge provisions place an emphasis on the protection of agriculture and landscape.
“The shire has a well-resourced Planning Compliance Unit, which in September 2017 introduced an additional full time ‘pro-active’ planning compliance officer,” Mr Payne said.
“This role aims to target areas of non-compliance – and this includes various parts of the Green Wedge areas.”
The Mornington Peninsula Shire draft budget will go on public display in April.