Fears Queensland farms are not being protected from urban encroachment are being played out around block of land for sale in Bundaberg.
The 30ha site on Ashfield Road, Kalkie, was the home of the BSES sugar experiment station for decades, but it is no longer associated with research activities.
Sugar Research Australia (SRA) has called for expressions of interest to buy the land, which is being advertised as a future residential development site.
“In my opinion it’s probably some of the best red soil in Bundaberg and indeed you could probably argue it might even be as good as anywhere in the state,” Bundaberg Canegrowers chairman Allan Dingle said.
“It could be utilised for basically growing anything, but the value of that land obviously is going to get a greater return from houses than it will from agriculture.
“I don’t think people have looked far enough forward because if you look at the Ashfield Road site as an example, you put houses there in another five years, what happens to the cane farm across the road … it’s just a chain of events that unfortunately will just keep expanding into very good prime agricultural land and it’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Housing worth more than farming
Sugar Research Australia said the site had been increasingly surrounded by housing which had restricted some of the research activities, but the sale of the land would not reduce SRA activities in the southern region.
He declined to disclose the asking price for the land, but rough estimates put the value of the site at about $2 million if sold as a farm.
As a housing development, with the potential for 200 blocks worth $150,000 each, the speculated value could jump to $30 million.
It’s just a chain of events that unfortunately will just keep expanding into very good prime agricultural land.Allan Dingle, Bundaberg Canegrowers chairman.
The site was rezoned from rural use to the new ‘Emerging Community’ zone by the Bundaberg Regional Council last year.
In a statement, the council’s planning spokesman Cr Ross Sommerfeld said the transition was driven by an earlier designation of the land for urban purposes under the State Government’s Wide Bay Burnett Regional Plan in 2011.
“The Regional Plan included the area of Kalkie and Ashfield from the existing urban edge out to Ashfield Road as being within the urban footprint of that plan,” he said.
“As the Regional Plan is a ‘higher order’ planning document, when drafting the Council’s new planning scheme, the Council was required to reflect the Regional Plan’s designation.”
If the council had not reflected the designation, it was unlikely its new town plan would be accepted by the State Government.
But a spokeswoman from the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning said the decision to change the zoning was ultimately the council’s.
“The Wide Bay Burnett Regional Plan, which establishes the growth and direction for the region to 2031, provides flexibility for local governments to determine the best land uses within their respective planning schemes,” she said.
“This approach allows local governments to undertake more detailed planning to identify their local needs and how best to manage growth within their respective areas whilst considering existing and required infrastructure.
“In this case, when Bundaberg Regional Council drafted and progressed its planning scheme, it had elected to include the land in an ’emerging community’ zone.”
Clearing laws preventing farm expansion
Rural lobby group AgForce president Grant Maudsley said the situation around this block illustrated the rising conflict between urban lifestyles and agricultural production.
What we’ve got now is as good as it’s going to get so we’re going to be asked to put more pressure on a finite resource.Grant Maudsley, AgForce president
He said if the state government’s new Vegetation Management Act passed in its current form, it would be almost impossible to offset land lost to housing with new farms.
“What it really means is that what we’ve got now is as good as it’s going to get so we’re going to be asked to put more pressure on a finite resource,” he said.
“Which obviously means more intensive production and I don’t think anyone’s in favour of that.
“We’ve hit our productivity increase limits in a lot of sectors and we do need to find more land to be sustainable.”
The Minister for Agriculture, Leanne Donaldson, said she raised the urban encroachment issue with her Cabinet colleagues.
“If the land is acquired by a developer and a Development Application is lodged it will be up to councillors to consider the benefits of development against the loss of productive farm land when they discuss any subsequent application,” she said in a statement.
“As the land has only been advertised for Expressions of Interest it is too early to speculate on what may happen.”