Darwin’s rural area is home to around 21,000 people, or 15 percent of the population of Greater Darwin. It accommodates people from all walks of life who choose to live “out of town” for a variety of reasons.
For some it is just being close to nature, while for others it may be the need for space for a large garden or veggie plot, room for sheds to house a variety of items (maybe a collection of vehicles), the need for a studio where creativity can thrive, a paddock or two for the kid’s horses, or many other important “lifestyle” aspects which can only be met on acreage in a more rural setting.
Whilst the opportunity for this rural lifestyle must be maintained, there is an ever-increasing demand for a range of different living options outside our established urban centres. To meet this increasing demand, a review of existing zonings is required and appropriate development options need to be considered.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) believes good planning, incorporating comprehensive and effective consultation, is an essential element of all future developments. In the rural area this planning must consider the values and lifestyles of existing residents, sustainable patronage and support to the current and new local village centres, the need for social facilities, the needs of the current and future communities who wish to live in place, as well as the critically important issues of water supply and waste treatment.
Rural residents have identified access to swimming pool facilities and good public transport as important amenities needed to support their lifestyle. A public transport hub and a swimming pool could readily be incorporated into a village centre, which could also deliver some shops and places for residents to meet and interact. But to deliver these amenities sustainably, there needs to be a minimum population threshold. This means a variety of lot sizes is needed in addition to the conventional 2 to 8 hectare blocks.
For many rural residents large acreages are required to maintain their chosen lifestyle. But planning for rural living also needs to consider changes taking place in the rural area, such as:
- An ageing population is leading to an increased demand for smaller blocks. At present there are few options available to people who wish to continue to live in the rural area but can no longer manage their large acreage (this need could be accommodated by providing aged housing options near village centres);
- New technology is available for environmentally friendly wastewater treatments, but to be economically viable, there must be a minimum threshold of consumers and coordinated delivery;
- Young people who have grown up in the rural area and would like to continue to enjoy this lifestyle often can’t afford the high prices for larger blocks, or do not want a larger block with its associated maintenance issues;
- Modern living patterns are increasing the desire for village centres where people can meet and have a coffee / meal / haircut or access a range of shopping options. The only way to provide these amenities is to plan for centres with population densities which enable local businesses to be viable;
- The increasing trend towards working from home offices means that access to modern communications is essential, but this is still an issue for parts of the rural area. Once again, volume of customers is a critically important element in the delivery of modern, efficient communication systems at an affordable price.
Consultation is a critically important element of planning for the future of the rural area. But as specialists in community consultation and research have known for many decades, consultation must be carefully and professionally conducted if it is to identify the views of the full cross-section of ages, individuals and groups.
While they may have a place as a means of providing information to large numbers of people, public meetings are a very ineffective form of consultation. This is because such gatherings are easily dominated by a few very vocal people who do not necessarily reflect the views of the majority. People with other views melt into the crowd and say nothing.
Information collected by consultants working one-on-one with rural residents is already proving to be far more valuable for planning future rural subdivisions than the often-expressed views of a vocal minority. UDIA (NT) strongly supports good strategic rural planning within a coordinated consultation framework which is planned and conducted by qualified professional organisations affiliated with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2).