(In our last edition Karen Gilbert wrote of the trauma of her protracted dealings with council over suddenly needing a DA for the successful Hicamp she and her husband had run for tourists, and their heartbreaking decision to sell as meeting the council requirements was too hard, too expensive. To now discover this final blow or, as it could seem, this “coincidence” from Council has her hopping mad.)
Karen writes – On the 6th October 2022 a media release was issued by the NSW Government which proudly declared that “Farmers across NSW will soon be swinging their gates open to visitors, thanks to a new policy that makes it easier to set up agritourism opportunities”. These opportunities include opening farm gate stalls, opening up farm stay accommodation, hosting weddings or putting on farm events such as food tastings or animal interaction days.
This long overdue policy reform which took effect on 1 December 2022 was aimed directly at farmers like us at Bluebell Hill Farm in Burrell Creek. We had all struggled through drought, bushfires, floods and the pandemic. This policy reform allowed Primary Producers (zoned RU1) who owned over 15 hectares, to supplement their ever-dwindling income without the need for a costly and complex DA.
By opening up farms to the fast-growing domestic caravan and camping market, local councils would ultimately reap the benefit of increased tourism in their local area. It was a win win for farmers and for local councils.
Unless you live in the Mid Coast Council LGA it would seem!
At Bluebell Hill Farm, we had run a very successful Hipcamp business (where farmers allow self- sufficient campers and caravans to spend a few days on their land) since 2019. We had been aware that great changes were coming as Hipcamp had been petitioning the NSW Government to remove the red tape for some time. Our DA for “primitive camping” had been ongoing with MCC since 21 August 2021 and despite the ever-increasing costs necessary for engineers reports and the classic “We don’t accept satellite images so you’ll need to pay an expert to draw a site map, and yes it will cost thousands and look exactly like the map you submitted but hey ho!!!’ we were still hopeful.
Sadly for us a DA didn’t eventuate; with our last communication to MCC being on 15 August 2022. It was a classic David and Goliath battle but after two years of fighting, David had had enough. We sold the farm in October 2022 and left the Mid Coast for a better life.
But here’s the thing…after we sold our property, I was contacted by another farmer in the MCC LGA who were facing the same battles as we had. It seemed the compliance officer who visited us back in 2021 was staying true to his word…going after anyone operating a Hipcamp even though the policy reform states, “the types of development you can do as farm stay accommodation under exempt and complying development include: “erecting tents and have caravans or campervans on your land as exempt development”.
The rules changed as of 1 December 2022 but it seems council did not get the memo?
Sadly, the last laugh seems to have been at our expense. I have a Bluebell Hill Facebook/Insta page where I post all about our travels. It is normally an upbeat social site but on 3rd February I came across a local news article which stated that “the Mid Coast Council was the sixth most complained about council to the NSW ombudsman”. I shared that post saying that anyone who knows what Ian and I have been through will not be surprised to read the headline and I hashtagged the council so that their social media person would see it too.
That post went out at 10.08am.
At 12.35pm I received a text letting me know that our Primitive Campground DA had been approved!!! I was totally gob smacked and checked the NSW Planning Portal immediately…and there it was in all its glory. Submitted and approved at 12.04pm just 2 hours and 4 minutes after my Facebook post. Nothing had been received from council since my last submission to them on 15th August 2022, but following a social media rant, approval was suddenly granted 518 days after submission. Oh, and even weirder, it was backdated to the day before my social media rant. Coincidence, or no?
(Currently homeless, living in a caravan with her husband Ian, deciding what to do next. Sadly she is hearing of others who have experienced the same issues and have never been informed of the change in the DA concerning campers on their farms now being allowed.)
See Your Say.