Council said NO.
We started this journey 2 years ago, having bought the land on advice our brewery would be permissible. We hired an architect, a town planner named Steve and countless “consultants” to satisfy council. So far we’ve spent around $60,000 of our hard earned money. For absolutely nothing….
And get this!
We can build restaurant.
We can build a function centre.
We can build a winery with cellar door.
We can build a PUB!
But we cannot build a brewery…
Let me run you through the past 12 months. I’ll try not to rant, because rants are for sore losers. But there’s a story to tell, and I know many were keen to share a beer at Bucketty’s Brewery and no doubt appreciate the background on how our amber dreams were poured down the drain.
The reason the brewery was rejected came down to a technicality in a recent zoning change, which was implemented only months before we submitted our DA.
We were seeking approval for our brewery under the Agricultural Produce Industry definition which fits inside our rural zoning. The process of turning barley, hops and yeast into beer fits because we’re producing stuff from the land, even if we didn’t grow it. This is the path that dozens of breweries in NSW have used to obtained approval.
But then the NSW government amended their in LEP to “help” the artisan food and drink, by defining it as a light industry, which meant brewers could produce and sell beer within light industrial areas without drama.
Seems harmless enough?
But they’ve inadvertently screwed us by defining artisan brewing as an “industry”. Guess what’s not allowed inside our rural zoning…? Industrial uses.
Now that a brewery fits inside the new artisan definition, it no longer fits inside the agricultural produce industry.
I was first alerted to the potential risk 12 months ago when Steve sent me an email.
I am terribly sorry, but we have a problem.
In October 2016, when I provided my initial advice to you, microbreweries fell under the Agricultural produce industry definition which was a permissible use with consent in the RU2 zone that applied to the site, and it is under this definition which I have since obtained development consent for similar proposals. However, there has been a significant change in the planning framework recently which has major implications for your proposal.
On 29 August just gone, the NSW State Government made changes to the Planning Regulations that operate throughout the State. As part of those changes they introduced, amongst other matters, a new definition of artisan food and drink industry as follows:
artisan food and drink industry means a building or place the principal purpose of which is the making or manufacture of boutique, artisan or craft food or drink products only. It must also include at least one of the following:
(a) a retail area for the sale of the products,
(b) a restaurant or cafe,
(c) facilities for holding tastings, tours or workshops.
See clause 5.4 for controls in industrial or rural zones relating to the retail floor area of an artisan food and drink industry.
Artisan food and drink industries are a type of light industry—see the definition of that term in this Dictionary.
As part of those changes, and I have literally just discovered and confirmed this now after my site inspection with you this morning, they also introduced the artisan food and drink industry definition into the Dictionary section of the Cessnock LEP and made no changes to the land use tables of the respective zones.
What does this mean? Well, because the artisan food and drink industry definition was not included into any of the landuse tables when it was introduced into the Dictionary means that it falls to the light industry definition (see above Note under the definition) to determine if this landuse is permissible or not. Unless light industry is permitted with consent in a zone, artisan food and drink industry is prohibited.
Light industry is a type of industry, and industry is a prohibited land use in the RU2 zone that applies to the site meaning effectively that artisan food and drink industry is also prohibited.
At the time we were devastated… But there was hope!
Coincidentally Steve was already halfway through another brewery application with Cessnock council and the property had a similar zoning, situated within the Hunter Valley. His advice was to see if council would continue accept the agricultural produce industry as a permitted use. And if they did, it’d create a precedent and we’d probably be ok.
So we sat on our hands for 3 months and waited…
Brewery approved! No objections and the council gave the brewery the green light.
Sweet! We’re back on!
We then opened the cheque book and hired a team of over-paid consultants to help build the Bucketty’s Brewery dream.
“Consultant this” and “consultant that” came on site, taking soil samples and counting cars, it was expensive, but if we could get it across the line it’d all be worth it.
4 months later everything was looking good and we were almost ready to lodge plans with council.
But before we pushed the button, it was important to include the neighbouring community in our plans. The brewery is (was) intended to be a community meeting point. A place in Bucketty, the only place in Bucketty, where we could gather and share a yarn while holding a frosty pint.
We held an open day and invited anyone and everyone to come down and see what we were up to. We proudly tapped our first kegs and sparked up the BBQ, all free of charge. Lexi had organised Bucketty’s Brewery T-Shirts for all of us, and as I looked at the 15 or so friends and family wearing their shirts and getting stuck in, I felt incredibly proud of what we were doing. This was starting to become a real thing!
50odd people came through that day, and as we walked the site and I articulated the dream, the guests responded with broad smiles and warm back-slaps of encouragement.
“This is going to be awesome” was said to me at least a dozen by the people of Bucketty that day.
Shortly after, we submitted the DA.
After the 2 week notification period I called our town planner and asked?
“How did we go? Any objections from neighbours?”
“Ahh, let me see hereeeee…. Nope. None” said Steve in his stoic voice
“Sweet!!! What now?” I said
“Now we wait for a request for more information from council, should come in the next few days”
Ok, another step closer to opening our brewery.
However the next day I received an email that knocked the wind out of me…
Forwarded by Steve from Council
Sorry, I was referencing the wrong DA number. We sent 8 letters out, and received 8 submissions.
100% objection rate will require the matter to be referred to a council meeting.
“You mean, instead of nobody objecting…. Everybody objected?” I whimpered down the phone to Steve.
“Yup, this is not good”
God damn… a feeling of betrayal came over me.
The next few hours were spent frantically calling neighbours and others I knew in the community to make sense of what had happened.
I discovered that 5 of the 8 objections were from residents kilometers away, a good 5-10 minute drive who had been watching us from a distance. They banded together in a covert, coordinated attack on the brewery, picking apart the DA with a fine-tooth comb, looking for anything and everything to stop it.
The objections included:
But the kicker was – PERMISSIBLY.
“the proposal falls under the definition of “artisan food and drink industry” which is prohibited in the zone;” is what one resident objected. And it turns out they were right. Painfully so…
“What about if I scale it right back and I consult with the neighbours to satisfy their concerns?” I asked Steve, scraping for options.
“That might work, but you need to get everyone on board”
Ok, so there was a chance if we made it smaller and less impactful. I called the 3 direct objecting neighbours to luke-warm support, however they agreed to consider a scaled back version if I pulled the development right back.
That sent me back into the big smoke, to sit down with my high flying, and high priced architect. We cut the building in half, instead of 800M2, it was 350m2. The brewing capacity dropped from 20,000L per month to 8,000L. Shorter operating hours and a minuscule tap room the size of a walk-in wardrobe.
The architect’s concept of the smaller building design
“Let’s see if this’ll fly” I said to Lexi as I emailed through the plans to Steve.
Council then requested a meeting.… was this good? Probably not… but it’d be interesting to sit down with the key decision makers nonetheless.
As we sat down, the head honcho and 2 support staff gave me the news.
“A brewery cannot be classified as an agricultural produce industry. Even if you satisfy all the objections, we don’t have the power to approve it”
The our new road now sits dormant…
My heart sank and I could feel myself going red…
As the meeting went on, I learned as a result of the significant number of objections, council sought legal advice on the permissibly issue. It didn’t matter that they’d already approved a brewery in the same zoning. They needed to get a lawyer to say it was ok. And their lawyer responded with our worst fears…. “No go”.
I’d anticipated that the permissibly would come up as an issue during the meeting, so in the lead up I’d formulated a plan to grow and malt the barley on site, taking the “paddock to pint” process to the extreme. My theory was, that if I was growing the barley, hops, yeast and catching the water, all on site. Surely it fits? Steve agreed.
So I laid out my carefully thought out plans on the conference table in front of the 3 council members, complete with letters from barley producers confirming the malting process and that it could feasibly be done on site.
“It doesn’t make a difference” the head honcho said.
“So a winery with cellar door fits, but a brewery doesn’t???” I pleaded
“Yes, because a winery is taking grapes and putting them straight in a fermentation vessel. Whereas with brewing you’re producing the grain through malting, milling and boiling, which classifies it as an industry”
“OK, what if I don’t malt the barley and I just boil it fresh” My brain clutching at straws, trying to remember if unmalted brewing was actually a thing.
“You’d still be processing it” She said
“This is absolute bullshit!” Is what I wanted to say… but I instead sat there in silence.
The rest of the meeting centred around half baked ideas of putting a café, restaurant or function centre on the site and brewing the beer elsewhere. Which they unenthusiastically confirmed was possible.
But no brewing in Bucketty.
And that was that…
In the space of a minute meeting in a Cessnock council conference room, Bucketty’s Brewery was toast.
So what happens now? I’m not sure… But we won’t be brewing beer in Bucketty.
The crazy thing is, I’ve had maybe 100+ texts, emails and messages of support from the community over the past 2 years. It seemed like the majority of us wanted it. I can say Lexi and I loved getting the letters votes of support.
Thank you to everyone who’s been part of the journey and I’m sorry we didn’t make it. I know many of you were looking forward to sharing an ale while looking out at the mature eucalypt’s down on Road 5. We were too!
Maybe Bucketty’s Brewery will pop up in Somersby, Or Gosford, Or Sydney… I’m not one for giving up, so stay tuned.