Although Bellingen Shire Council’s proposal to regulate blueberry farms has been knocked back twice, Mayor Dominic King says he intends to continue the fight.
In September of last year, council voted to go ahead with a planning proposal to require Development Applications (DAs) for new blueberry farms unless they met specified provisions for exemption.
The stated intention was to ensure water resources, buffer zones and habitat were properly protected, given the limited resources of agencies like the Environment Protection Authority to enforce regulations.
“What we are asking for here has all come from government guidelines and best practice documents,” Cr King said at the time. “We have seen massive growth in the blueberry industry in this region and the regulatory staff have not been able to keep up.”
When the Department of Environment and Planning rejected the proposal in March, council requested a review of that decision.
Last week the Independent Planning Commission upheld the original determination, saying the proposal lacked merit and should not proceed.
The IPC noted the planning proposal was not necessarily inconsistent with NSW planning policies but council had failed to demonstrate the regulation of blueberry farming, in isolation of other horticultural production, was justified and appropriate.
Cr King said he was “perplexed” by the ruling and that council was considering legal and political avenues for continuing the fight.
He pointed to scientific studies carried out by Southern Cross University that linked fertiliser run-off from blueberry farms to alarming levels of nitrogen found in Bucca Bucca Creek and Hearnes Lake.
“Both those studies recommended that the farms needed to do something about the sediment run-off,” Cr King said, adding that all forms of intensive agriculture needed to be more closely scrutinised, particularly their impact on waterways.
“It will definitely be a state and federal government issue coming up to the elections,” he said. “I’ll be talking to other politicians that are not in government to see what their thoughts are.
“As I’ve said from the start, I have concerns about the impact on our drinking water, on our other agricultural industries, our tourism industry, our fisheries. I can’t understand why they’ve said no.”