Councils urged to merge in radical restructure


Councils urged to merge in radical restructure

DateApril 25, 2013 133 reading now

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Nicole Hasham, Leesha McKenny

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William Street, Sydney.
New “global city”: The City of Sydney will stretch from the CBD east to the coast, and south to Botany Bay. Photo: Supplied

Sydney would be collapsed into 15 “super councils” serving up to 800,000 residents each in a plan to bolster council balance sheets and stop them sliding into irrelevance.

Councils would be offered financial incentives to merge under sweeping changes proposed by an independent review of the state’s 152 councils.

The report by the Independent Local Government Review Panel reveals for the first time the extent to which Sydney councils could be asked to merge. It is the strongest indication yet of the likely shape of recommendations due to be handed to the state government in September.

The panel’s chairman, Graham Sansom, said resistance to the once-in-a-generation changes would mean “the quality and relevance of local government in NSW will inevitably decline and the state will be the poorer for it”.


But some councils warn the government has a fight on its hands, claiming that services will be cut and communities denied a voice.

Three metropolitan councils – Sydney, Parramatta and Liverpool – would be expanded to cover up to 800,000 people each. The City of Sydney would be expanded to create a new “global city”, stretching from the CBD east to the coast and south to Botany Bay. It would swallow Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra and Botany Bay councils and might also include Leichhardt and Marrickville.

The panel proposes a “tidying up” of fragmented councils in the suburbs. It would merge Hurstville, Kogarah and Rockdale councils in the south; Hunters Hill, Lane Cove, Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby in the north; Ashfield, Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield councils in the inner west; and Auburn, Holroyd, Parramatta and Ryde in the west. The panel also recommends merging Manly and Pittwater with Warringah, as well as councils in the lower Hunter Valley and central coast.

Forced amalgamations are not on the cards. However, councils would be offered ”carrot and stick” incentives, including a higher level of financial and professional support to ”early movers” committing to a merger by July 2014.

Twenty new-look ”county councils” would be created to cover regional centres. They would replace regional organisations and encourage co-operation between councils and other levels of government.

Elected ”local boards” would provide representation and deliver

services in small communities, possibly replacing some councils or ensuring local identity and representation in large urban councils.

The report said inner and eastern Sydney was characterised by a large number of small councils that often duplicated services and struggled to present a united view on behalf of their communities.

The panel said it was “unconvinced” by arguments that mergers would destroy local identity, insisting it would create “high capacity” councils that could better represent and serve residents.

The report also recommended measures to boost parlous council finances, such as increasing rates and charges. It also called for elected officials to receive better pay and training.

Local Government Minister Don Page reiterated the government’s promise of no forced amalgamations. But the report warned it was unlikely that voluntary mergers would occur on the scale and pattern required, especially in metropolitan areas.

The Labor local government spokeswoman Sophie Cotsis denounced the plan as ”a recipe for monster councils – and monster rate rises”.

Chief executive of the Committee for Sydney Tim Williams supported the push towards fewer councils, saying the existing system was unable to manage the city’s growth.

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