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Journal article

Considering the right to have a house on rural allotments

1 Jan 2006

In parts of Australia and the United States, the almost universal right to have a house on rural allotments has resulted in rural living settlement in areas zoned for agriculture. Such 'unplanned' rural living has a range of potential adverse impacts, including loss of agricultural production and land use conflicts.

In Queensland in particular, a combination of factors related to land use and subdivision policy could lead to inappropriate conversion of existing allotments to unplanned rural living. Those factors include:

The entitlement to have a house on virtually every allotment.

The absence of the potential to excise small allotments for new or existing houses.

The existence of many allotments that are below the size considered necessary for a viable farm.

A study devised to investigate whether conversion of agricultural land to unplanned rural living was a significant problem comprised three stages of empirical analysis. Firstly, a Queensland"wide survey of land converted from sugarcane production supported the choice of the Bundaberg region as the study area. This was followed by analyses of the current land use and other attributes of allotments in the study area that, in 1980, were used for cane growing. The third stage analysed the characteristics of rural living and cane growing allotments at the time of their sale during the 1992-2000 period.

It was found there had been limited conversion of suitable, productive cane growing land to unplanned rural living. Compared to the allotments that remained in sugarcane production, allotments converted to unplanned rural living were on average, much smaller, of lower value, had lower agricultural production potential, and were situated in more undulating and forested landscapes further from Bundaberg.

There was a lack of evidence to support a change to the current regulation of either houses or excisions. The findings indicated that the allotment area required in order to avoid conversion to unplanned rural living, may be a better basis for determining minimum permitted allotment sizes than an area based on what is required for a viable farm. In the circumstances of the study area and period, the former was only about 20 ha, whereas the latter was 60 ha. However, the potential for changed economic conditions to reduce the productive value of agricultural land, and increase the value of land for rural living, makes it appropriate to be cautious about permitted allotment sizes in rural areas.

The South East Queensland Regional Plan 2005-2026 constrains further planned rural residential settlement, and seeks to preclude urban development and further subdivision from much agricultural land. However, it does not affect the right to have a house on each rural allotment. The higher value of land for rural living purposes in south"east Queensland, and the lower agricultural productivity of much of this land, would be expected to result in proportionately more unplanned rural living than in the Bundaberg case study.

The Regional Plan's constraint on planned rural living may contribute to increased unplanned rural living, which may constrain the future development of productive uses such as poultry farms, due to their adverse effect on residential amenity. There may also be greater conversion of cane growing land. These changes may affect the viability of associated processing industries. Further detailed study is required to fully address these issues and their implications for land use and subdivision policy.

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