Farmers on the old Majura Road say they have been living in limbo for as long as 15 years as the ACT government has not renewed their leases, meaning they can be pushed out of their properties at any time with just 90 days' notice.
Three farmers have passed away in the last 18 months waiting for their leases to be renewed. Another had the planned sale of his property - which would have maintained it as a farm - blocked because it didn't have "ministerial approval". These developments have brought the issue to a head.
The farmers want to continue developing the Majura Valley into a farm tourism trail, promoting it as a chance to experience rural life just a stone's throw from Parliament House.
They say the success of the one-day Majura Valley Bush Festival in 2017 when more than 8000 people visited Paul Keir's property Springfield - experiencing everything from carriage rides to sheep shearing to vintage machinery - was proof there was an appetite in the national capital for rural culture.
But the farmers fear the bucolic countryside along Majura road will soon give way to an avenue of IKEA-style developments, believing the ACT government is keen to rezone the land for light industrial use.
Added to that, no bank will lend them money to develop their properties along the tourism and farm-gate produce theme without the certainty of a long-term lease.
Paul Keir, whose family has farmed in the Majura Valley since 1956 and whose lease expired in 2005, said the farmers had agreed to take on even 25-year leases to get some certainty, put a business plan in place and show what they could do with the area. But they could get no answers from anyone in government.
"We don't even know who's making the decisions. Can anyone make a decision?" Mr Keir said.
"If they don't have any plans for here for the next 20, 25 years - give us a go."
The pressure of waiting year in year out for a lease finally got to Mr Keir and he decided 12 months ago to sell his property to a family who wanted to pursue their equestrian interests. He decided to take his dream of providing a bush festival experience on his property 365-days-a-year across the border to NSW.
"I had a contract in place, I sent it off to the government. The minister won't approve it," he said.
"I didn't know they could say no. It's like owning a house in Hackett and finding out you can't sell it."
Mr Keir said multiple sources had told the farmers there were no immediate plans to develop the middle section of the Majura Valley but no one could tell them why they couldn't have a lease.
"Three people have died in this valley waiting for this in the last 18 months," Mr Keir said.
"The stress that some people are under in this valley is heartbreaking."
Before caretaker provisions began, ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman told a Voice of Real Australia podcast that in terms of the future of Majura Valley: "We have no intention of moving the farmers on".
"We do want to see permanency for them. So we're not opposed to 99-year leases for those leaseholders," Mr Gentleman said in the podcast.
"We just need to work through the process to get it organised, if you like. And it is quite a detailed process. So to remove the current system that they have and move them into a 99-year lease isn't as quick as they would like to see it. And we understand that. But where there is no intention not to do that. So it's just a matter of process, I think."
The farmers say they have been waiting 15 years for the government "to get it organised".
"My family has been in this valley for four generations. It's a hard thing to walk away from," Mr Keir said.
A month out from the October 18 election, Mr Gentleman, as Labor's planning spokesman, was this week more circumspect about the future of the valley.
"ACT Labor believes Majura Valley has an ongoing role in agriculture, conservation and recreation," Mr Gentleman told The Canberra Times on Wednesday.
"We will continue working with the rural landholders and the federal government on future uses of the area."
The Greens, ahead of the election, say the farmers need certainty.
An ACT Greens spokesperson said this week the farmers should not be shifted to make way for light industrial development in the valley.
"The Greens have long supported certainty for the farmers in the Majura Valley and we believe they should be given certainty on their leases," the spokesperson said.
"We don't think the area should be industrialised as is flagged in the government's Eastern Broadacre Study. We support the plan for the Majura Valley being used as a food and tourism area."
The ACT Liberals have also been asked for their position on the future of the Majura Valley.
The Majura Valley was identified as one of 10 potential areas for future development in the Labor government's Eastern Broadacre study.
The study area extends from the Majura Valley to Hume and includes Symonston and the Jerrabomberra Valley.
The government is looking to release land in the study area for "employment generating development", with suggestions for light industrial, warehouses and transport freight hub.
A consultant's final report for the government highlighted that Majura Valley north could be considered for light industrial use, sensitive to the fact adjacent land was used by Defence and the Australian Federal Police.
"This precinct contains some shorter term (20-year) and expired leases. This indicates the likelihood of the land being required for urban development at some point in the future", the report by MacroPlan Australia read.
It would be a tragedy to see that whole Majura Valley turned into some industrial area when there's plenty of other space in Canberra for that.Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair Dr David Marshall
However, consultation with the community about the Eastern Broadcare Study also found Canberrans were concerned about the loss of the bush capital feel if development went ahead in some of the areas. Community feedback revealed most people felt any development should be around Fyshwick East and the least number felt it should happen in the Majura Valley.
Another sticking point is that in the Majura Valley, north of the airport, there are split blocks which are part territory land and part national land.
The ACT had been seeking advice from Defence on "their future need for this land", the report noted.
Sherry McArdle-English, founder and former owner of the truffle farm in the Majura Valley, has been working with the farmers to promote the area for farm tourism in an area just 12 kilometres from the Parliamentary Triangle.
"There is no other capital city in the world which still has the rare opportunity to showcase its grassroots farming history, primary production, agriculture and an ancestral trail," she said.
Ms McArdle-English said the truffle farm and Mount Majura Vineyard were granted 99-year leases in 2004.
Since then, one lease after another for the other properties in the valley had expired.
"The threat of an imposed 90-day withdrawal clause over each of these properties can be activated at any time. The threat is ever present," she said.
Ms McArdle-English said the government had suggested to her that 20-year leases could be granted but with a withdrawal clause, which made them virtually useless.
"Which means at any time in the next 20 years, if they decide to call in that lease, you're gone anyway," she said.
Ms McArdle-English, who helped plan the 2017 Bush Festival, said the government was so impressed by the inaugural event, it gave $30,000 to help cover the logistics of putting on the second.
"Due to the ongoing complexity surrounding the decision making between Commonwealth and ACT Government owned land in the Majura Valley, the Majura Valley Bush Festival was not able to continue, and the grant money was returned in full to the ACT government," she said.
Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair Dr David Marshall said the Majura Valley was a perfect fit for tourism, showing another side of the national capital.
"From a tourism point of view, it would be a compelling destination for visitors, particularly interstate and overseas visitors," Dr Marshall said.
"They [the farmers] should definitely get an extended lease and secondly it would be a tragedy to see that whole Majura Valley turned into some industrial area when there's plenty of other space in Canberra for that. This should be preserved, this area. It's quite unique and it would be a pity to see it developed away from what these landholders are proposing and would be a very big boost to Canberra's tourism infrastructure."
Anne McGrath, who owns Majura Valley Free Range eggs on Majura Road, is another farmer whose lease expired 15 years ago.
Her husband Nick Weber passed away without ever seeing the lease renewed.
Their son Fred McGrath Weber, 27, has taken up his father's vision.
While the farm now produces corn, eggs and lamb, Mr McGrath Weber wants to develop a sheep milk diary, a farm produce shop, cafe and even a micro-brewery on the site, all the while maintaining the rural ambience and heritage.
"I want to keep farming here and build something, not just for my family, but the whole community," Mr McGrath Weber said.
"For me, it's really about providing an experience for Canberrans and for visitors to Canberra so they can say, 'Wow, this really is the bush capital'."
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