Report Synopsis

Growing Pains: Planning for Future Populations

James Stacey

Australia has a rapidly growing population expected to reach near 30 million people by 2030. Rapid urban expansion will be needed, but without adequate planning this could negatively encroach upon agricultural lands located on the urban fringes of cities and towns across Australia. Given the growth rates, both Federal and State Government’s across Australia will have to invest more in infrastructure to provide services, and refocus the trend for low density living, or risk having a negative impact on the many existing agricultural businesses close to population centres. These challenges remain global in scope with many regions around the world have growing populations with an increasing need to provide housing for them.

This study examines the ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Agriculture in the Peri-Urban Zones’ and shows that agricultural businesses will decline if land is re-zoned for housing or industrial developments. Through an investigation into how different jurisdictions around the world are managing land use and dealing with their growing populations, this study will focus on relevant land use and planning laws in various countries including the United States, Canada, China, and New Zealand. This investigation examines land use planning rules and how some regions have been able to maintain a strong agricultural sector in close proximity to highly built up areas and how other regions are on a fast pace to erode their agricultural production base.

Therefore, this study aims to achieve the following three objectives:

  1. To investigate how land use planning legislation impacts on agriculture’s ability to maintain agricultural production in the rural landscape internationally.
  2. To see how urban and rural planning legislation and government policy shape society and its connection or disconnection from agriculture.
  3. To understand the process of successful urban and rural planning legislation and policy and how that has been achieved for the long term.

The aim of this study is to provide important lessons from these international case studies to the Australian context, such that any future planning processes for peri-urban farmland zones in Australia can learn from their successes and failures. This report provides a list of ten recommendations for policy makers and agricultural businesses that will assist them in dealing with the growing pains and future planning for a rapidly expanding urban environment on potentially productive agricultural land. From the case studies presented we can see a number of similarities with the challenges facing the nation of Australia. For example, water is a key component of agriculture and urban demand for that water is increasing and placing a higher value on that water.

How other states manage their planning systems will be strategically important to Australian policy makers and farmers as we go forward into the future, where often the priority is put on urban growth with limited restrictions. Any urban development without regard for future agricultural and food security needs is an issue relevant to and evident in Australia and beyond. Where some local governments are actively promoting urban sprawl and development and while others are trying to improve planning laws to ensure sustainable development, there will be challenges. This report will examine the Chinese practice of land consolidation as a useful land-management tool and question if this system would work in other countries. Perhaps more relevant is the Canadian case study which demonstrates that population growth can increase without losing agricultural land.

However, Australian planners will have to consider the merits of increasing population density and improving public transportation. Thus, while strong planning laws will offer security of land tenure to encourage farmers to invest in their farm businesses with confidence, these same strong planning laws could also be a disincentive to people purchasing land to speculate on a future land use change. Finally, farmers will need to win the ‘social license’ to operate their agricultural businesses, as community support is essential for the balancing act between urban growth and productive agricultural land.

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