About Agricultural Land Use Planning

To retain opportunities for agriculture to grow, our Department provides advice to planning consent authorities and industry groups to support sustainable resource use and production opportunities.

In addition to the advice role the team are currently focusing on delivery of the governments work on the Right to Farm policy, mapping the states most important agricultural lands and providing regional industry snapshots. Following this work the team aim to improve available educational resources for agricultural planning and commence research to support future policy changes.

Why plan for agriculture?

Agriculture is important to Australia for both its economic and social benefits, it also provides food security and independence. In 2017-18, the Australian agriculture industry was valued at $59 billion, with NSW comprising 23% of this (approx. $13 billion). Agriculture in NSW supports 85,000 jobs, ensures food and fibre for the citizens of NSW and Australia, and helps meet global demand.

Agriculture has a multiplier effect through the economy, providing jobs in regional communities and driving secondary agricultural industries such as animal processing, fibre processing, milling, pressing, canneries and transport. It also supports other industries - including wineries, restaurants and tourism - and promotes the health and wellbeing of our communities by providing access to some of the best quality produce in the world.

Agriculture faces new and evolving pressures that can, in part, be reduced through the planning system. These pressures include urban encroachment, increased migration from cities to regional areas, the impacts of climate change, markets and global events. According to a 2019 Agrifutures report, Australia experienced a 14% decline in land used for food and fibre production between 1973 and 2017. This equates to a loss of 106 million hectares. These challenges all point towards the importance of agricultural production, and the importance of maintaining agricultural land.

Changing community needs and aspirations prompt changes in the use of agricultural land. However, when agricultural land is converted to other uses, especially to residential or industrial uses, it can be permanently sterilised – meaning it cannot be used again for agricultural production.

The NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment framework

The Environmental Planning and Assessment (EP&A) Act 1979 provides the legislative framework for rural planning and development control in New South Wales.

Our role is to promote the interests of sustainable agriculture in the context of state government policies. DPI Agriculture Policy for the Maintenance of Agricultural Land (PDF, 58.18 KB) aims to guide the planning system in providing certainty and security for agricultural enterprises.

Local and Regional Strategic Planning

For communities wanting to promote agriculture and agribusiness, a clear strategic planning framework is vital in fostering both government and private sector investment to grow agricultural output, streamline assessment processes, identify potentially suitable locations, add vitality to the economy and deliver new jobs.

These plans enable the early identification of agriculture as a key feature in various parts of the landscape and in regional economies. This identification sends a clear signal to investors and developers alike that agriculture remains the preferred future use for this land.

Planning proposals

Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) guide planning decisions for local government areas. They do this through zoning and development controls, which provide a framework for the way land can be used. LEPs are the main planning tool to shape the future of communities and also ensure local development is done appropriately.

LEPs that give due regard to agricultural land uses can prevent the emergence of land use conflict in a local government area. The mechanisms an LEP uses to control land uses on rural land include:

  • Land use zones to allocate land in certain areas for certain purposes.
  • Land use tables which specify which land uses are permissible or prohibited in a zone.
  • Minimum Lot Size controls to limit subdivision of land, and
  • Specific planning controls to specify how certain developments are to be done.

Planning Proposals are the first step in preparing an amendment to an LEP. Planning proposals should be consistent with the strategic planning framework.  When preparing a planning proposal that will affect agricultural land DPI will advocate that the plan should support farmers in exercising their right to farm, prioritise efforts and consider measures to minimise the fragmentation of rural land and reduce the risk of land use conflict, particularly between residential land uses and other rural land uses among other things.

To ensure that all plans retain opportunities for agriculture to grow, DPI Agriculture provides advice to councils and other authorities about provisions to create:

  • a stable environment for investment that avoids conflict between residential and agricultural neighbours
  • flexibility in the range of production systems that can be used, for example the opportunity to use best practice with minimum regulatory interference
  • opportunities to produce of a range of commodities
  • a critical mass (or cluster) of agricultural development that supports regional markets, processing facilities and related industries (e.g. equipment retailers).

In order to produce plans that deliver these features, the Department typically advises councils to develop strategies and policies that identify the agricultural lands best suited to support a diverse range of products, or that are particularly suited to a single product, for example bananas. Once identified, these lands should be zoned for agricultural production and supported by comprehensive zone objectives and appropriate development standards.

Development assessment

The EP&A Act also provides for the merit based assessment of new or expanding developments in order to apply the rules set by planning policies and instruments. Depending on the size or importance of the development, the responsibility for assessing its impacts and determining whether it should be approved or not may rest with the local council or the State Government. Whichever way it goes, agencies like NSW DPI, with an interest in the development, participate in the assessment process.

It is important to note that despite a plan specifying a standard for subdivision or development, no automatic right to undertake this activity accrues to the landowner. Councils are compelled to assess each development application against a set of criteria before determining it. These criteria are listed in Section 4.15 of the EP&A Act.

DPI Agriculture's role in development control is to support informed decision making by advising consent authorities (usually local councils) on the agricultural impacts of development proposals. The Department also provides advice on features that support sustainable agricultural development. In the end, the decision to allow or refuse development falls to the council or Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

In advising consent authorities about the agricultural impacts of a proposal, the Department must consider:

  • the rules established by the planning system for the locality
  • the impact on the long-term sustainability of agriculture in the locality
  • the potential for conflict between residential and farming neighbours, and
  • the impact on land and water resources used for agriculture.

To help consent authorities identify important agricultural issues the Department has developed a range of development assessment guidelines for development that affects rural lands, such as rural subdivision. DPI Agriculture also provides advice on specific Intensive Agricultural development proposals in response to requests from local councils or the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

Managing biosecurity risks in land use planning and development guide

The Managing Biosecurity Risks in Land Use Planning and Development Guide (the guide) outlines steps to be considered to ensure biosecurity is appropriately addressed during the planning and assessment of development proposals, particularly for agricultural enterprises and activities and proposals that may impact on agricultural enterprises or industries.

The Guide seeks to help development proponents, development assessment authorities and other stakeholders understand the relevance of biosecurity risk management in land use planning and development, and specifically its importance in mitigating potential impacts of a development proposal on the environment, economy and community.

Learn more about land use planners and developers and biosecurity.