Why farmers backflipped on development support
A NUMBER of Cudgen farmers who unsuccessfully lobbied the NSW Government a decade ago to have their land rezoned for development have changed their mind to oppose the building of a badly needed hospital in the area.
In 2008, 26 farmers signed a petition asking for the government to relax its State Signiciant Agricultural Land zoning so they subdivide their properties.
The Gold Coast Bulletin this month contacted 13 of those who signed the petition. Six said they had changed their mind because the agricultural sector had rebounded from its depths of a decade ago and the soil was far too rich to not farm on.
The other seven farmers contacted were happy for a hospital to be built on Cudgen Rd.
Northern NSW communities are in a stand-off over where to build the $534 million new hospital.
A new facility is badly needed to replace the 220-bed Tweed Hospital. Doctors in the emergency department last week said the hospital was regularly stretched and pop-up theatres were being brought in to ease the strain.
After looking at dozens of sites, the NSW Government recommended the hospital be built on Cudgen Rd, Kingscliff.
However, the Tweed Council and some residents opposed the decision, saying the land was premier soil for growing sweet potato.
Tired of the debate, property owner Alan McIntosh this week offered a 10ha block on Tweed Coast Rd, estimated to be worth $2.5 million, free to the community so it could build the hospital. Protesters rejected the gesture, fearing it would open up development in the area.
The petition in 2008 argued the area was "struggling to maintain its worthiness of its State Significant Classification."
The letter from the group sent to the council at the time suggested the economic viability of the farms was in doubt.
When the petition was signed sweet potatoes were selling for 27 cents a kilogram. Following the 2011 floods in Bundaberg, Cudgen farmers cashed in as the price sky-rocketed to 89 cents, according to the Sweet Potato Growers Association.
Farmer Ross Julius, who signed the petition 10 years ago, said viability was no longer an issue.
"Every farmer signed it in Cudgen at the time," Mr Julius said.
"What happened was a lot of people wanted to cut houses on their property, instead of having to sell the whole farm, more of a lifestyle block," he said.
But Mr Julius said business was now good and farmers no longer needed to subdivide properities for alternative revenue.
"If that piece of land goes to the hospital it will then move sideways and more will go," he said.
"I don't want to see it cut up. This land here will grow anything.
"Only one or two still believe in the split. I just want to pass it down and see my son in farming as well."
State member for Tweed Geoff Provest said "categorically the hospital would not open the floodgates for development on that farm land".
"Any further potential rezoning of land will have to stand on its own merits and through a rigorous approval process," he said.
"People who still want to farm will still be able to farm, the claims that the flood gates will open are just wrong."
Farmer Peter Johansen said he did not believe the hospital should be built on the rich red Cudgen soil, and the intent of the 2008 petition was not to overdevelop the land.
"None of us really ever thought the petition would work," he said.
"Our intent wasn't to say we want to build houses over this land. It was to simply say the blanket coverage put on it by the government's (State Significant) zoning was not right and we wanted other options."
Another farmer who signed the 2008 petition said he did not want the hopsital to be built on the farming land because it would mean the loss of history for the region.
"It shouldn't be built on red soil full stop," said the farmer who did not want to be named because of the social media war raging over the proposed hospital site.
However, former farmer Michael Crabtree said he could see no reason why the hospital should not be built on the soil he toiled in for 35 years.
"I personally don't know why they are objecting to it," he said. "If a hospital goes there it is not going to interfere too much.
"Farmers don't want to grow on it any more because they can't make money.
"There are a few share farms but they can't afford to pay big money for the leases."
Joe Agius, whose farm is close to the proposed hospital site, said the Cudgen Rd recommendation was the best location for the new hospital.
"It is free from flood and has ocean views for the sick to look out at and get better," he said.
"These days, there is no point trying to grow on the soil. The soil in Cudgen is not as good as people think it is."
Another supporter of the hospital said he stood by his decision to develop the land.
"Why should people be locked in to doing only one thing with their land?" he said.
"This fight had gotten too nasty. The hospital just needs to be built and there (the proposed site) is good enough," he said.
Due to the backlash from Tweed Shire Council and community groups, the NSW Government has extended an expressions-of-interest process regarding the proposed hospital site by six weeks.
Mr Provest said most of the suggestions submitted were of alternate sites. However, "the majority of the sites are affected by flood".
Submissions close on June 14.