The Yass Valley Council has unanimously backed a five-kilometre buffer zone on the ACT's northern border where housing development will be banned.
The buffer, if endorsed by the NSW planning department, will put an end to a series of housing developments planned by NSW farmers on the border. The landowners are upset, saying the buffer devalues their land, which is already marginal for farming given the proximity of Gungahlin.
Steve Evans on his NSW property near the border: One of many landowners opposing a new buffer zone. Photo: Rohan Thomson
They have also complained about the exemption for the new suburb of Ginninderry, a joint venture between the ACT government and the Corkhill brothers to develop land on both sides of the border west of Belconnen, beside the Murrumbidgee River and Ginninderra Falls.
The Yass council argues that the Corkhill brothers' land is landlocked, cut off from NSW by the rivers, and accessible only through the ACT, so should be exempted.
But the NSW landowners north of Gungahlin say the Ginninderry housing development has been handed a major advantage by the buffer zone, with no competition.
NSW Member for Goulburn Pru Goward said she had asked the council for a briefing.
"Public transport and water supply are two areas I would appreciate further information on," she said.
"I would like to understand Yass Valley Council's reasons behind the proposal: What studies have been done, what impacts this will have on the rest of the shire?
"There are a lot of flow-on effects from this proposal and it is very important that I, as the local member, and the NSW Government fully understand the implications."
The Yass council plans to change the zoning from a primary production zone, RU1, to a "transition" zone, RU6. At the moment, the zoning allows farms of 40 hectares or larger, and Yass council planning director Chris Berry said the council planned to maintain the status quo for block sizes. It would introduce new restrictions to ban poultry farm and other intensive agriculture, industries such as quarrying, and truck parking.
The ACT government strongly supports the buffer and called for a ban on subdivisions less than 80 hectares.
In a report to the council, Mr Berry said the area north of the border had been envisaged in the 1960s for urban expansion, with the population expected to rise quickly to one million people forcing the need to expand Canberra's borders.
But the plan to annexe the area and convert it to leasehold never progressed because of poor ACT-NSW relationships and the complexities of governance, infrastructure and compensation for landowners.
By 2004, when the Yass council became responsible, significant land speculation had occurred.
"Many landowners who abut or are in close proximity to the border have assumed an entitlement to rezone for urban purposes to accommodate Canberra's growth. There has not been a clear strategic position in relation to this area ... so landowners have never be given any level of certainty," he said.
Arguments had been put to the council in favour of housing development near the border, including that it would be a natural expansion of the ACT, was close to ACT work, shopping, education and health, and would take pressure off the Barton Highway by reducing commuters to Yass and Murrumbateman.
People also argued the land was agriculturally marginal because of illegal dumping and displaced kangaroos from Canberra.
But people elsewhere in the Yass shire area felt differently. Some were concerned that development at the border would only benefit Canberra and residents would not think of themselves as belonging to the Yass Valley. Others wanted to protect the landscape and retain rural character and said the success of the Yass area depended on attracting visitors and maintaining agricultural production.
Given the CSIRO development near the border, there would be continued pressure for urban creep, spilling over the border unless a very clear area of separation from ACT development was established, he said.