The lack of a clear definition around the term ‘rural’ and ‘rural purposes’ causes difficulties for local governments and residents in determining how properties should be rated.
Most recently, residents in the City of Swan will be impacted by the City attempting to establish whether individual properties should have rates levied on Unimproved Land Values or Gross Rental Values. This change may cause substantial increases in rates for many residents, particularly those on properties in Bullsbrook, Gidgegannup and throughout the Swan Valley.
Many residents bought properties hoping to retire surrounded by nature, but not too far from Perth and important services like hospitals. For those that have already retired, they may now be forced to sell their properties as they cannot afford the increase in rates on a fixed income.
The City characterises “rural” as non-urban areas where agriculture is carried out and that “Rural land” means land on which grazing, vegetable and animal production, or other agriculture or horticultural activities are conducted. There is no clear definition of rural or rural land contained in the Act. This seems to apply an agricultural meaning that does not incorporate the entirety of the plain English meaning of rural.
The characteristics of 'rural land' are clearly broader than just conducting agriculture in an area or on a particular property. Ratings should rightly look to other factors like the density of housing, general amenity and population, as well as the industries in an area. Another approach that could be considered would be to characterise everything outside of urban areas as being necessarily rural in nature. It would also be inappropriate to characterise land as being non-rural on a lot by lot basis rather than looking at areas as a whole.
We call on the review to develop a clear and easy to apply definition of rural. We believe that a clear definition will provide certainty to all residents and local governments that are on Perth’s fringe. Alternatively, a set of clear guidelines on what is and is not a rural property, which takes into account the vast range of land uses, beyond agriculture, that are characteristic of rural properties. This will provide certainty to local governments in terms of their revenue collection and to residents through the fact that they will not have sudden, unexpected changes to the valuation of their property and clear legislation should they wish to challenge changes.