Wollondilly Shire Council will advocate to maintain existing protections for the Shire’s rural lands in the face of pressure from developer lobbyists calling for the removal of these protections, potentially opening up more agricultural land for housing.

“Removing these protections would be not only be catastrophic to some of the most important land in Greater Sydney, but would also repeat some of the worst mistakes of previous governments in allowing development in areas lacking the most basic enabling infrastructure,” Mayor of Wollondilly Matt Gould said.

“Once the damage is done, it can’t be reversed.”

At November’s Council meeting, Cr Gould expressed his deeply held concerns about recent comments from the Urban Taskforce Australia calling on the State Government to ignore the critically important Metropolitan Rural Area (MRA) and to allow development in rural areas.

“Unfortunately, the CEO of the Urban Taskforce is ill-informed of the housing challenges in Western Sydney,” he said.

“As I have flagged in the past, and consistent with the calls across local government, we are in an infrastructure delivery crisis.”

Cr Gould said that rural lands are key to Wollondilly.

“These beautiful and productive rural areas are protected from over- development under state planning rules, giving the power to councils and local communities to look after these special areas,” he said.

Cr Gould emphasised that Council recognises that there is a housing crisis and Wollondilly is doing its part to address it, being one of few councils meeting and in fact exceeding its housing targets; but that housing supply is being slowed by lack of infrastructure, particularly water, wastewater and transport.”

“In order to effectively address the housing shortage, we need to be both focusing additional housing in areas that are easily serviced by existing infrastructure such as transport hubs, and putting additional infrastructure investments into effectively servicing pre-existing identified State Growth Areas such as Wilton,” Cr Gould noted.

The MRA was a collaborative product of the former Greater Sydney Commission, local councils and community input, combining the important environmental, social and economic values of Greater Sydney’s rural towns and villages and rural areas.

The MRA contributes to significant habitat and biodiversity, supports productive agriculture, provide mineral and energy resources, helps manage land use conflict between rural land uses and residential areas, sustains local rural towns and villages, provides the ‘green lungs’ of Greater Sydney, and plays a critical role in managing and mitigating the urban heat island effect.

This approach is consistent with the finding of the NSW Productivity Commission’s recent series of reports on how to make housing more affordable and make the best use of Sydney’s infrastructure.

These reports found that building on the suburban fringes is no longer the only or best path forward and that focusing new development in areas already serviced by infrastructure can save up to $75,000 per home to deliver the roads, train services, water and wastewater, schools, and open space that is needed.

The Urban Taskforce has also argued that the MRA is not really used for agriculture and that it has limited economic use.

“This couldn’t be further from the truth,” Cr Gould said.

“For Wollondilly alone, the MRA contributes at least $1.5B in economic output, equivalent to 33% of the Shire’s economic output. It also provides close to a quarter of employment within the Shire.”

Cr Gould added that over the last few weeks he has spoken with most of the Mayors within the MRA, and “councils will now be collectively writing to the Premier to seek a meeting to ensure our rural lands are protected.”