The Mirror News

Going for rural tourism

WITH South Gippsland Shire Council’s formal endorsement last Wednesday of its Rural Tourism Strategy, a major step forward has been taken to redress the problem of many tourism businesses being a prohibited land use in most of the municipality.

Although the Council sees tourism both as an option for diversifying farm income and as a significant contributor to South Gippsland’s economy, the Planning Minister’s July 2008 blanket application of the Farming Zone [replacing the Rural Zone] in South Gippsland’s planning scheme, effectively prohibited most tourism development in the municipality.

It also meant that many existing and previously permissible tourism businesses in rural parts of the Shire were defined as ‘non-conforming uses’, which in turn impacted on their ability to expand or to recover in the event of a disaster such as a fire.

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View the strategy

A copy of the Rural Tourism Strategy can be downloaded from www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au. Or contact Council reception on 03 5662 9200 about viewing a hard copy. Or download directly here: [download id=”16″ format=”1″]

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FLOW ON TO RLUS

By identifying ‘Tourism Investigation Precincts’ and listing the assessment criteria against which applications for rezoning to either Rural Activity Zone of Special Use Zone would be judged, the Rural Tourism Strategy is designed to feed into the as-yet uncompleted Rural Land Use Strategy (RLUS).

However after last Wednesday’s meeting, Council’s Acting Manager Planning Paul Stampton said that “theoretically, there is nothing stopping people applying for a rezoning now [to enable a tourism use in a rural area] although it would be a little premature prior to completion of the RLUS, which is still on schedule to be brought to Council by December.”

[Further time would still be involved after an endorsement of the document by Council due to subsequent steps such as public exhibition, planning panel assessment, Ministerial approval and incorporation into the planning scheme].

Mr. Stampton also reminded that the Rural Activity Zone was still “an agricultural zone” but just “allowed a little bit extra” than the Farming Zone.

Large tourism developments such as conference centres would require a Special Use Zone, rather than a rezoning to Rural Activity.

ENTHUSIASM

Councillor Mohya Davies, who with her husband operates a tourism accommodation business, spoke enthusiastically about the Rural Tourism Strategy.

“It will help towards better outcomes in rural areas and is a strategic way of interacting with the RLUS,” she said.

“Tourism continues to be an important part of the local economy and the flow-on economic benefits are fantastic.

“The increasing numbers of people demanding a rural lifestyle are also looking at sources of non-agricultural income, especially in the tourism area.

Cr Davies continued, “We can use the seven tourism nodes or investigation precincts to start moving forward in dealing with rural land use issues.”’

After the meeting, Cr Davies said she did feel that the Rural Tourism Strategy should have “dealt with more of the rolling hills area above Toora which are a golden area for tourism and aren’t included in the report.”

She also felt that to some extent, the Strategy “tried to look away from the coast due to problems of potential inundation”.

Consequently, people might want to argue for “identification of an investigation precinct around areas such as Venus Bay, which were also not highlighted as potential tourism nodes.”

Since only small areas of the Farming Zone would be rezoned, Cr Davies acknowledged that “there are winners and losers”.

Consequently, she strongly encouraged people to “consider the aspects of the Rural Tourism Strategy and make comments about it when the RLUS goes on public exhibition.”

MODEL EXAMPLE

Cr Jennie Deane was pleased that the joint effort with Bass Coast Shire in undertaking the Rural Tourism Strategy had worked partly because it was a first in Australia and partly because “tourism goes across Council borders.”

Although somewhat similar studies had been carried out by other places, such as Baw Baw Shire, Cr Deane noted that they did not have the solid background evidence of what was on the ground, public and stakeholder comment or strategic justification.

“It’s a very special report that looks as if it will be used as a model across the State,” she said.

According to Cr Deane, South Gippslanders would benefit in three ways from the Strategy.

Namely, it gave support to existing rural tourism businesses, gave guidelines for people seeking site specific re-zoning and highlighted new areas suitable for re-zoning.

Cr Mimmie Jackson anticipated that “locals could also benefit from great businesses developed in our own backyard.”

Council’s Tourism Coordinator Christian Stefani confirmed that there was significant interest in the Rural Tourism Strategy from across Australia, as both he and the Strategy consultant, Urban Enterprise, had received many calls asking about it and requesting copies.

PRECINCTS & GUIDELINES

The Rural Tourism Strategy identifies seven areas for investigation – Yanakie (expanded from the draft version exhibited), Waratah North Hinterland, Foster North Hinterland (which stretches north to Gunyah and east to Binginwarri), Cape Liptrap, Koonwarra-Meeniyan Hinterland, Mirboo North and Loch-Korumburra-Leongatha.

Starting on page 64 of the report, the assessment criteria for rezoning proposals deal with:

  • Impact on agriculture – must be minimised by keeping to areas of lesser quality soil, greater title fragmentation and existing higher development densities;
  • Location close to settlements or areas of existing mixed land uses;
  • Landscape and biodiversity not compromised.
  • Proximity or linkage to existing tourism developments, attractions or travel routes.
  • Accessibility to a major road, highway or touring route; and
  • Physical site suitability such as not needing vegetation removed, not subject to inundation or other physical problems, able to be sustainably serviced and existence of special features such as views or some kind of competitive advantage.

RE-ZONING

At the Council meeting, Mr. Stampton clarified that the investigation precincts may result in entire areas or some sections within the identified areas being rezoned but doubted that site specific rezoning would occur in those precincts.

Site specific re-zonings would apply where a tourism development was proposed outside of the investigation precinct but still met the majority of the assessment criteria.

In regards to the cost of seeking a site specific re-zoning, Mr. Stampton estimated that a proponent of an amendment would be looking at less than $5,000.

Below that, costs depended on whether or not unresolved objections were received, which in turn determines whether or not a planning panel needs to be convened.

He noted that panel costs related to whether the hearing was held in Melbourne, how many members sat on the panel, and whether panel members needed to visit the site as part of their work.

He noted that the application fee for a zoning amendment request was in the order of $700 to $800.

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