The racket of approving bad development proposals

by Councillor Charles Jago

Conservative councillors in Canada Bay argue that we have no choice but to approve many bad development proposals.

The argument that councillors need to support oversized development has constantly showed up in previous council debates on developments, leading to acceptance of many oversized developments. The argument says that rejecting the motion would lead to the government – either the Minister or the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) – to taking over the development and imposing an even worse solution.

This has actually happened. In the case of the Parramatta Road (PRCUTS) rezoning in October 2022, Council deferred approval and DPE then took it over more or less the next day and gave the developer largely what they wanted. And DPE may have done this in other situations, showing that there is sometimes substance to the argument. Thus the threat of a worse outcome from DPE is the main reason given by councillors for passing far greater scale than the community wants.

However, the underlying issues never get addressed. No attempt is made to actually address or even discuss the recurring problem. And meanwhile, any attempt to find middle ground usually gets rejected out of hand. At the same time, the community and anybody seeking something better get treated like children. If this had only happened once, allowing overdevelopment because DPE would do worse would be a reasonable response. But it happens constantly. That’s why a local resident I know described this practice as “a racket”.

Rather than support the community, the majority of councillors have instead taken the pressure off the bully boy tactics of the major NSW political parties in supporting overdevelopment. The effect is to create a developer’s playground, where our community gets shaped mostly by developer profits. 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 livability of our suburbs. It becomes a good cop/bad cop routine in which the council blames the government – but most of the community just sees the council approving bad developments.

Like me, the community supports reasonable development that won’t compromise local traffic and other infrastructure. But instead they get something that will always be larger than will fit in the locality.

There is a way to address this problem: to identify the issues and build community support for change. This would mean that council would need to make decisions that reflect reasonable community concerns, and then lead opposition to unreasonable government pressure. Yes, this would be difficult. But it would be possible if the councillors were united and ran a community campaign to explain the issues to the community and ask for their support.

The Bushells development came to a council meeting in early December 2022 – three months before the NSW state election. That was the ideal time to raise the issue in the community and put pressure on the NSW government to support reasonable community expectations. That’s what I asked other councillors to do at that time. Of course, there was no guarantee that that battle could be won. But we will never know, because no other councillor present was willing to oppose the scale of the development.