Where the heart is – life on the land

Siobhan and her husband live on a 37 acre property at Possum Brush, and her parents have lived on 225 acres at Upper Myall for almost 40 years. Her parents, Sam and Ingrid McCorriston would like to retire on the land they love after farming it for more than 40 years, by sub-dividing off a five acre lot to retire on for the rest of their days, to age gracefully on the land that is their home. A place that they can bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy with them in their future years and beyond. Also the economics of farming has not allowed them to accumulate a superannuation fund and as a result their superannuation is tied up in their farm. 

McCorriston’s farm at Upper Myall

Passing the Buck

In March 2017 they wrote to Member Stephen Bromhead for assistance in applying to MidCoast Council to carve out a five acre lot from their property as currently their only option is divide it all into 100 acre lots.  

Mr Bromhead replied two days later via email in a five sentence note thanking them for their correspondence. (line one.)

(The next two lines are ) “I can appreciate your concerns and accordingly have referred the matter to the interim General Manager of MidCoast Council, the issues you have raised. Please be aware that a formal response can take 8-10 weeks”.

(He should rubber stamp this last two sentence as he uses it all the time.) 

“Thank you for taking the time to bring this to my attention. As you know I enjoy having the benefits of your views, and always work as your representative in Parliament. I believe that the best way to represent the views of local people is to listen hard, act responsibly.”

(There was no follow up from the interim GM).

The  MidCoast Council  is currently reviewing land use, conservation and development, which includes a new Local Environment Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP). “Our last one was 2010 so this will impact future subdivisions in our area for many years to come. However many, many people we’ve spoken to about it are completely oblivious to this process taking place.’

No Council Consultation

It seems Council strikes again with a poor record in informing and consulting with the community.

Their version of community consultation started in June 2018 til October 2018. It was promoted online as a Rural Strategy and probably won’t be reviewed again for many years. These important documents that Council are currently reviewing probably will impact future subdivisions for many years to come. They cover subdivisions, agricultural tourism, marine activities, areas being set aside as reserves.  But Siobhan and her parents found that very few people on the land knew about this process taking place.

It’s All Online

‘There was an online Council survey for a short time, which was extended for a few weeks as obviously they had few responses as it was not promoted in places a rural community visits on a regular basis; like the community noticeboards and produce store counters and vendors. We never received a flyer with our rate notices. I emailed Council to ask how the next phase will inform people and was told go to the website and click a box. If you didn’t you weren’t on their list for information. What if you don’t use the internet! They said look in the local paper, but “The Extra” doesn’t go to rural areas!  By using the community notice boards or local produce stores, our rural community members would see it, have a chat have a chat,’ said Siobhan.

They are asking the LEP strategists to fully consider the needs and opinions of ratepayers who are in the same position that they are in. And also that rural community members be better informed by Council using communication modes outside the internet.

They wanted to make sure their voices were heard for the next round, so Siobhan tracked down the Planning Senior Strategic Officer at MCC, Alexandra Macvean, and sent her an email about the “Rural Strategy” outlining why they felt their property should be considered for rezoning from RU1 Primary Production to smaller five acre lots.  So far she has not received a response. 

Impersonal Response

This year she re-contacted Ms Macvean via the council website and received a mass online response saying- 

‘ . . . . 2018 was a productive year for Council staff working on the MidCoast Rural Strategy, (Productive? Ed.) and invite you to look through the Rural Issue Summary Papers that were presented to Council in November 2018.’ (Why don’t they go out and see people and talk face to face?Ed)

Siobhan and her parents are concerned that the Council’s previous Rural Strategy states – 

“some existing villages and rural living areas should not be in a rural/agricultural zone”, and adds that “the draft Rural Strategy will not recommend any new rural living areas or urban release areas.” 

And continues, “In 2019 Council will be inviting everyone (How? Ed) from across the MidCoast region to workshop rural issues and how they will influence preparation of the Rural Strategy and future land use planning.”

Who Knows About This?

These two families are not alone in feeling cut off from any consultation process. “There was a meeting in big places like Teagardens but we are talking about an older demographic on the land, whose voices aren’t being heard,” says Siobhan. 

The Future

‘‘We’ve seen people move into the area from the Central Coast, taken up lots and cleaned them up and they look magnificent. Those small blocks were available to people wanting to come out of the city to plant a nice garden, have a horse, a couple of goats and chickens, have their kids and grandkids come to stay, I think that kind of lifestyle really improves the area,’ said Siobhan. ‘We’re not thinking of splitting up farms that are viable with acreage above 50 acres. Certainly not land that is fertile and can be used for a business to contribute to the community, but the properties that are too small for a viable business, or those with poor quality soil. We live in such a pretty area with short travel distances to Nabiac, Taree, Tuncurry and Forster and quick access to the Pacific Highway.” She adds, “As the Manning Valley attracts new residents relocating to take advantage of our fantastic environment and lifestyle, rezoning Tritton Road would provide spacious lots greater than 2 ha with a lovely rural outlook for those seeking a “tree change.”’

(And certainly better than another crammed MHE  or “lifestyle” development!” ed.)

Adds Siobhan’s gentle father, Sam McCorriston, ‘But at the end of the day, you want to spend those twilight years in the place you’ve nurtured and loved along with your family all your married life.’

DM

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