Legal frameworks for urban agriculture: Sydney case study

Published date31 July 2021
Date31 July 2021
Subject MatterProperty management & built environment,Building & construction,Building & construction law,Real estate & property,Property law
AuthorLinda Corkery,Paul Osmond,Peter Williams
Legal frameworks for urban
agriculture: Sydney case study
Linda Corkery and Paul Osmond
Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales Kensington
Campus, Sydney, Australia, and
Peter Williams
School of Law, The University of Notre Dame Australia Sydney Campus
Broadway, Sydney, Australia
Purpose This paper aimsto examine the planning policy and legal frameworkgoverning the creation and
operation of urban agriculture in Sydney, Australias global city. All levels of urban agriculture are
considered from domestic andsmall community gardens to large agribusiness as all make an important
contributionto agricultural production in an urban context.
Design/methodology/approach Using the Australian State of New South Wales and its capital
Sydney, as a focus, thestudy examines the recent trend of the recognition and re-establishmentof agriculture
as a desired land use in cities. Three examples are selected for closer scrutiny Horsley Park Urban
Agriculture Precinct, located in theWestern Sydney Parklands; City of Sydneys City Farm, located in the
inner suburb of St Peters; and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis Agribusiness Precinct, located at a new
airport on the fringeof Sydney.
Findings As more city-dwellersembrace urban food production and as city authoritiesseek to encourage
and facilitate farming activities, it is clear that regulatory structures which allow it to happen should be
incorporated into urban planning legislation at (in the Australian context) state government level. If cities
want to encourage urbanagriculture, planning legislation needs to be part of thebroader legal framework for
enablingit to germinate and thrive.
Originality/value This paper explores the emergenceof two new types of urban agriculture: f‌irst, the
multi-functional, small-scale urban farming operation, situated conceptually between a community garden
and a full-scale commercial agriculturalenterprise, and located spatially in the midst of built-up urban form;
and second, the intensive, high tech export-oriented model exemplif‌ied by the Aerotropolis Agribusiness
Keywords Australia, Regulation, Sydney, Urban agriculture, City farms, Planning legislation
Paper type Case study
1. Introduction
The past two decades have seen a resurgence in public and policy interest and activity in
urban agriculture (UA) in cities around the world, from New Yorks Five Borough Farm
(Five Borough Farm, 2020) to Fresh and Locals FlyoverFarm in Mumbai (Fresh and Local,
2020). This global trend is also evident in Sydney (Mason and Knowd, 2010;Pearson et al.,
2010;Mintz and McManus, 2016;Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2020), which is not
surprising as Australia is one of the most urbanisedcountries in the world with over 90% of
its population living in cities. Only 6.1% of Australias landmass is considered of arable
quality, compared to 17% in the USA, for example. Moreover,the amount of peri-urban land
available for food cultivation is diminishing as urban sprawl expands to accommodate a
growing population. Thiscontinuing process of covering viable peri-urban agriculturalland
Received17 June 2020
Revised23 November 2020
Accepted3 December 2020
Journalof Property, Planning and
Vol.13 No. 3, 2021
pp. 218-235
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JPPEL-06-2020-0030
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
with residential, industrial and infrastructure development provides another argument for
exploring the potential of UA to replace some of those lost farmlands. Rapid urbanisation
also decreases the quality and quantityof green space in densifying cities and UA offers the
possibility of using previously overlooked informalopen space such as vacant lots,
disused bowling greens,street and railway verges for food production.
UA ranges from remnant market gardens on the city fringe, to non-commercial
community gardens, to high-tech, high-riseagritecturaldevelopments (Agritecture, 2020).
Each scale of operation has unique interactions with the law. This paper examines a new
phenomenon, at least in Australia: the emergence of the multi-functional, medium-scale
urban farming operation, situated conceptually between a community garden and a single
full-scale commercial agricultural enterprise and located spatially in the midst of built-up
urban form.
Initiating such enterprises within the boundaries of a dense urban area involves
navigating numerous legal restrictions,particularly relating to planning and environmental
regulations. There are also corporations and associations laws, which regulate the
management structure, operations and governance of an agricultural enterprise, whether
not-for-prof‌it or commercial business. Finding and negotiating access to unused or under-
used land is another challenge.
In Australias three-tiersystem of governance, it is essential to understand the legislation
applicable at State and local levels which governs the land use planning and development
approval processes and expectations for a prospective farms interactions with neighbours
and the surrounding environment: for example, avoiding potential nuisance issues such as
noise, odour, increased traff‌ic, the attraction of vermin. Legal responsibilities around work
health and safety (WHS) arise for management and employees of the operation, as well as
for volunteers and visitors to the site,as does compliance with food safety regulationswhen
fresh or processed produceis sold directly.
This paper explores these planning and legal issues and presents three models for UA
enterprise implemented in Sydney, Australia: f‌irstly, in the Western Sydney Parklands
(WSP), administered by the WSP Trust, an agency created by the New South Wales (NSW)
Government; secondly,the City of SydneysCity Farm, in an inner-city neighbourhood of the
city; and thirdly, the proposed export-focussed Agribusiness Precinct associated with the
development of a new airport on Sydneyssouth-west fringe.
If cities want to encourage UA, arguably planning legislation needs to part of the legal
framework for enabling it to germinate and thrive. Best practice also suggests bringing
together the diverse range of legal and regulatory requirements pertinent to UA as
published guidance for farmers, planners and legal consultants, as has been done for many
established businessactivities.
2. Agriculture and the expanding city
Whilst UA has undergone a resurgence over the past few decades, in fact, it never really
went away. In the developed world, the introduction of the products of the nineteenth-
century industry artif‌icial fertilisers, fossil fuels to the work of agriculture led to
the establishment of rural agribusinessand increasing banishment of urban farming to the
hinterlands (Philpott, 2010). Nevertheless, driven by the impacts of the depression, war, the
post-Second World War environmentalmovement and more recently, considerations of food
security, climate change and well-being, UA has survived and indeed thrived (Mok et al.,
2014). Further, agriculturenot only continues to be a major contributor to urban households
in developing countries but also despite rapid urbanisation, differences between rural and
urban livelihood householdsappear to be decreasing(DeBon et al.,2010,p.21).

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