Councillors back Bushells developer not the community

By Councillor Charles Jago

Summary: For the Bushells site on Burwood Road Concord, councillors approved a development that was roughly twice the scale of surrounding developments, and strongly opposed by the community. Their argument was that if they did not approve it, the government would approve the same or worse. But they have never been willing to build community support to put pressure on the state government.
The combination of a development facing strong community opposition and a close state election was the ideal time to take power back from the overreach of the NSW government. Rather than support the community, other councillors have instead taken the pressure off the bully boy tactics of the major NSW political parties in supporting overdevelopment.
Like me, the community wanted a reasonable scale of development that would not compromise local traffic and other infrastructure. But instead they got something that will always be larger than will fit in the locality.

At a council meeting on 28 March 2023, three days after the very tight NSW election, Council met and (amongst other things on a busy night) considered its response on the development of the Bushells site at 160 Burwood Road Concord, with its unique chimney stack – a well-known landmark visible from many locations around the area.

Planning proposal

The planning proposal for Bushells, the sixth version of that document reflecting a complicated history, came back to Council for approval after being on public exhibition. Click here for the full proposal considered by Council, the text of the decision finally passed by Council and the two videos of councillors addressing the item – video1 and video2.

In brief, the proposal included 380 to 400 apartments on 3.9 hectares, plus commercial and industrial space as well. Community representatives spoke with a single voice with the view that the scale of the proposed development was roughly double what it should be, especially in comparison with surrounding developments. The proposal before Council reflected a slight decrease from the versions supported by the eastern planning panel and the Department of Planning.

Community comments at the council meeting

The item began with a number of community representatives including Helen McCaffrey and John McKeon from the Bayview Action Group speaking on the issue. The concerns included:

  • The sheer inappropriate scale of the development (see the graphic below similar to one circulated by the Bayview Action Group) in terms of height and floor space ration (FSR).
  • Major concern on the traffic impacts of the development. With significant traffic problems in the area already, the community did not agree with a report to Council that new traffic conditions would be basically fine.
  • An entry to the development from Zoeller Street would take public land from the Massey Park golf course.
  • The level of required affordable housing had been reduced from 10% to 7%.
  • The concern that approval of redevelopment of the original Bushells central roasting Hall could perhaps be deferred or subject to a new proposal, allowing the developer to springboard to an even large proposal in future.

New developer concessions

A representative of the developer then spoke to the meeting. He made a number of new concessions on the development specifically in regard to:

  • Agreement that the development would not take any land from the Massey Park golf course for the Zoeller Street entrance;
  • Agreement to increase the rate of affordable housing units from 7% back to 10%;
  • Agreement to ensure that the factory roasting hall would be the first part of the development to submit a development application ensuring that it would be locked in as indicated on development plans; and
  • Agreement that the developer would pay for maintenance of the Foreshore Park for its first 10 years.

Although these offers did not address the largest issue, i.e. the disproportionate scale of the development, they clearly represented a step forward on important issues that were of concern to the community. As such, the Mayor temporarily postponed debate on the topic until Council officers could clarify the changes required to the written motion being considered by councillors. After a short period during which other business was considered, Councillor debate on this issue recommenced with updated recommendations.

Councillor debate

Councillor Cordaro

Councillor Cordaro was first to speak. Given the concessions from the developer, he supported the revised motion.

Councillor Di Pasqua

When the Mayor asked for speakers against the motion, Councillor Stephanie Di Pasqua spoke strongly against it. “The primary issue is the density and its inconsistencies with the surrounding area,” she said, “So my question is why are we still negotiating? Why not just reject the proposal? Rejecting the proposal sends a strong message to the Labor government [and] the Planning Department that we want to get this important proposal right… The sentiment of the community is clear. The community sees this as an overdevelopment of the site.”

It was stirring language, strongly delivered. However, she had not raised the issue during any of the candidate debates prior the NSW election (the election was just three days before the meeting), even though the issue of overdevelopment was the most common issue that I raised in those forums. She had spent her time in those debates praising the former Coalition government for its supposed strong economic management and delivery of infrastructure. As far as I know, she only raised her voice against overdevelopment when the election was safely complete.

However, for a few minutes there, I thought I might have an ally in addressing the absurd scale of the development, to respond to community concern. Alas, that was not to be.

Councillor Megna

Councillor Michael Megna spoke next, in support of the motion. Like Councillor Cordaro, he argued that rejecting the motion would lead to the government – either from the Minister or the Department – taking over the development and imposing an unwelcome solution. He mentioned that at the December 2022 council meeting I had argued for rejection of the planning proposal, which was true. However, he left out my main point of that time, which had put the rejection in the context of raising the development as a political issue during the forthcoming NSW election, so that the community could influence government action on the development.

Councillor Jago

I was the next speaker, with a major amendment to the motion. With the election over, I was not arguing for rejection. Instead I put forward an amendment, which I had previously circulated with councillors, directly aiming to reduce the scale of the project. Staff put it up on the large screen so that councillors and the public gallery could see it. (Unfortunately, the content of the amendment was not accessible to anybody watching the video of the meeting on Facebook.) This amendment was basically to reduce the scale of the development. The motion before the meeting was based upon the floor space ratio (FSR) across the whole site of 0.96:1, down from the 1.25:1 recommended by the Eastern Planning Panel in March 2020. My amendment reduced that to an FSR of 0.8:1. Click here to see the text of my amendment. Despite the Mayor’s comment that I was “against everything”, I was not objecting to the whole development, just its scale.

The Mayor and Councillor Megna argued that my motion was not actually an amendment but was a substantially new motion. This took me quite by surprise. In hindsight this was clearly wrong and a pre-planned tactic – I should have argued more with it because my argument really addressed the development’s scale, the core issue of the debate. Indeed, it was the same key issue which Councillor Stephanie Di Pasqua had raised as well.

I was forced to foreshadow a new motion, which would only be considered if the current motion failed. However, I needed another councillor to second that. Unfortunately, no councillor was willing to do that. Councillors Ferguson and Little were both absent. Councillor Cordaro had expressed interest in my position, and actually said it was worth debating. He could have seconded it without voting for it, but then dropped out. And Councillor di Pasqua, who in her passionate fighting speech had identified the issue of scale as the most important and could have easily chosen to second that motion, did not even open her mouth. My motion would have put her fighting words into practice, but she did not engage. My later attempts to talk to Councillor di Pasqua about her concern for overdevelopment also went nowhere. I cannot recall any further words or actions from her regarding her expressed concern with the scale of any development since that meeting.


The main motion was put to a vote, and passed with two councillors dissenting – myself and Councillor di Pasqua. My amendment was not even debated.

Key issues

Outsized development

As shown in the graphic above, the development is roughly twice the size of surrounding developments. Virtually every person presenting from the community prior to the debate made the remark that they were not opposed to development; they were simply opposed to an outsized development that would cause traffic and other problems in the community. I agree. See more about the kind of development I support here.

If we don’t approve it, the government will

The argument that councillors have to support oversized development has constantly showed up in previous council debates on developments, leading to acceptance of many oversized developments. There is a grain of truth in the argument, but the underlying issues never get addressed, and – as in this case as well – any attempt to find middle ground usually gets rejected out of hand. See more on the racket of approving bad proposals.

Councillor Megna referred to my position in the December 2022 Council meeting that the planning proposal should be rejected. However, the context had substantially changed since the December 2022 Council meeting, when I argued that Council should reject the motion and make a political issue out of it, in the context of the coming election. The point was to mobilise community support behind a lower scale of development on the Bushells site, making it hard for the government to insist on greater scale.

In December 2022, the time would have been right to mobilise community opposition against the entrenched government pressure with the coming election. But other councillors instead chose to defer the matter. And – despite Councillor di Pasqua’s stirring speech which I did not believe – neither Labor nor Liberals wanted to raise overdevelopment as a NSW election issue, because both parties are committed to that same path.

Note that the election had three Canada Bay councillors as the main candidates – Councillor Stephanie Di Pasqua for the Liberals, Councillor Julia Little for Labor and myself for the Greens. And in fact, at the time of the March Council meeting three days after the election, the result of the election still hung in the balance!

Of course, in this meeting in March, I did not propose to reject the motion – my amendment was about getting the scale right. Then if the new government wanted to overturn a considered decision by council with community support, they might have a very early political issue on their hands.

The takeaway

This was an opportunity lost. The combination of a development facing strong community opposition and a close state election was the ideal time to take power back from the overreach of the NSW government. But none of the Mayor, his party or the Liberals had any intention of addressing this critical issue affecting our area.

Rather than support the community, other councillors have instead taken the pressure off the bully boy tactics of the major NSW political parties in supporting overdevelopment. They have chosen to continue the racket of acting as the proxy of the NSW government in imposing developments that have disproportionate impact on the liveability of our suburbs.

Like me, the community wanted a reasonable scale of development that would not compromise local traffic and other infrastructure. But instead they got something that will always be larger than will fit in the locality.