Discussion about Yarra Ranges’ Green Wedge Zoning begins

Yarra Ranges Council and Agribusiness Yarra Valley are hopeful of farming zone being introduced. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

A discussion about the Green Wedge Zoning in the Yarra Ranges has been opened up at The Nationals For Regional Victoria state conference.

Yarra Ranges Council wants to seek parity between Farming and Green Wedge Zones in the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP’s) to help support Yarra Ranges agribusinesses to have on-farm accommodation for seasonal workers.

Mayor Jim Child said the Council is seeking alignment with the farming zones that would allow for permit-free on-farm accommodation in the area.

“The vital thing we’re trying to achieve is to have on-farm accommodation for up to 10 people, because in the Green Wedge in the Yarra Ranges you have to apply for a permit,” he said.

“In other municipalities in regional Victoria, they all have farming zones as the Minister for Planning (Richard Wynne) introduced an amendment to allow up to 10 people accommodation without a planning permit.”

The Reforms (Farming Zone) mentioned by Cr Child came in late 2021 for owners or rural land.

Chairman of Agribusiness Yarra Valley Clive Larkman said the Green Wedge Zone restrictions make it impossible to do a lot of things.

“Everyone in the shire is a victim of it in multiple ways, as about 55 per cent of the shire is rural land,” he said.

“We have real problems attracting staff here, especially with most of the Yarra Ranges not rural zoned and meaning backpackers are less likely to work here as they can’t get an extension on their visa.”

As the Yarra Ranges is largely Green Wedge Areas the reforms do not apply, with reasons cited to be the relative proximity to Melbourne CBD and ample accommodation.

However, Yarra Ranges Council has argued that the accommodation is not always affordable, available or convenient in travel time via car or public transport for season workers.

Mr Larkman said the restrictions are affecting the aesthetic of the Yarra Ranges.

“The property I live next to in Wandin is about 15 acres, but isn’t allowed a dam or bore, so he can’t farm on it, or then build on it, and is now essentially a weed paddock. It affects him, and then me as I have to worry about weed seeds on my farm, then the Shire because it looks yuck,” he said

“Whatever you do to make the farming industry more competitive and more sustainable, the better for people who come here, who come to have a nice lunch looking over the farms.”

International visitors were only able to visit Victoria again in mid-February 2022, and the shortage of international visitors working on farms made a huge impact on the agricultural sector.

Mr Larkman said after the last two years, it’s critical to see some change to support farms in the Yarra Ranges.

“Visiting backpackers offers a great incentive that benefits everybody, and the last two years has seen the nomadic tribe of people fruit picking and pruning dropped off. We don’t want to see the berry farmers, the cherry farmers, the apple farmers or the nurseries of flower farms, whoever it may be, struggle because of this” he said.

“I’d like to basically get rid of all the Green Wedge probations or get a map out and retrace the line between residential and Green Wedge Zone as there are some really small properties in there which make it hard for farmers to exist.”