Sydney’s Council Mergers Explained

March 14th, 2016

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Under new NSW government plans, 152 councils will be amalgamated to cut the overall number down to 112. In Sydney, the number of councils will be reduced from 43 to 25, and regional councils from 109 to 87.

While not an easy step, Premier Mike Baird believes the reforms will help keep New South Wales sustainable. This belief is founded upon an Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal review  showing two thirds of NSW’s councils are not “fit for the future”.

According to Local Government Minister, Paul Toole, the merging of the councils is just part of a larger change, including increasing the mayor’s term from one year to at least two.The proposed merger could also save ratepayers almost $2 billion over the next 20 years, according to KPMG.

The reaction

Many councils have expressed distaste at the merger proposal, saying constituents would not support it. Warringah Mayor Michael Regan said no one on the Northern Beaches supported the merger, especially as Warringah council will be split and merged with Pittwater and Manly.

Some councillors are going so far as saying a forced merger is an indication of the lack of democracy in NSW.

For residents in Wollongong, the move is controversial as – according to Mayor Gordon Bradbery – the amalgamation with Shellharbour will make ratepayers in Wollongong council responsible for a $50 million council administration centre being built. Plus, according to Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba, the merger would cause massive job losses.

Mostly, councillors are surprised by the lack of consultation, and angered by the timing of the announcement. Many believe the State Government announced the amalgamations just before the holiday season to avoid full scrutiny.

However, the move has been welcomed by the Sydney Business Chamber, due to the belief that fewer councils means a smoother and more straightforward way of doing business. Many businesses work across multiple councils, which means they’re working to each council’s rules and regulations, which can be very confusing and time consuming. This is especially true in areas of planning and development. The amalgamation means that most businesses will only have to deal with one council per project.

The merging councils are

  • Armidale, Dumaresq and Guyra Shire
  • Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville
  • Auburn City, Holroyd City and Parramatta
  • Bankstown and Canterbury
  • Bathurst Regional and Oberon
  • Berrigan Shite and Jerilderie Shire
  • Blayney Shire, Cabonne and Orange City
  • Bombala, Cooma-Monaro Shire and Snowy River Shire
  • Boorowa, Harden Shire and Young Shire
  • Burwood, City of Canada Bay and Strathfield
  • City of Botany Bay and Rockdale City
  • Conargo Shire and Deniliquin
  • Cootamundra Shire and Gundagai Shire
  • Corowa Shire, Lockhart Shire and Urana Shire
  • Dubbo City and Wellington
  • Dungog Shire and Gloucester Shire
  • Gosford City and Wyong
  • Goulburn Mulwaree and Palerang
  • Hawkesbury City and The Hills Shire
  • Hornsby Shire and Ku-ring-gai
  • Hunter’s Hill, Lane Cover and City of Ryde
  • Hurstville City and Kogarah
  • Jerilderie Shire and Murrumbidgee Shire
  • Kiama Municipal and Shoalhaven
  • Manly, Mosman and Warringah
  • Murray Shire and Wakool Shire
  • Newcastle City and Port Stephens
  • North Sydney and Willoughby City
  • Palerang and Queanbeyan City
  • Parramatta City, Auburn City, The Hills Shire, Holroyd and Hornsby Shire
  • Pittwater and Warringah
  • Randwick City, Waverley and Woollahra
  • Shellharbour City and Wollongong City
  • Tamworth Regional and Walcha
  • Tumbarumba Shire and Tumut Shire

The impact

A major impact for councils themselves is that while new councils should be established by the middle of this year, there has been no guarantee or guidance as to who will be running the new councils until elections are held. Elections could be as late as March 2017.

As a possible solution, the government will potentially appoint administrators to take care of the running of the council, or alternatively, allow existing councillors to continue in their roles. But how existing councillors will work together in the new amalgamated structures has yet to be determined.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the biggest concern for Sydneysiders is whether bin night will change. But, according to Melissa Gibbs from the University of Technology’s Centre for Local Government, the mergers are likely to take a few years to reach full effect, and residents will not notice any immediate change in any services.

In terms of rates, the impact will depend on a number of factors including land values and the efficiency of services in neighbouring councils. According to Mr Toole, IPART will examine the existing system for rates to find a financially sustainable solution that is still fair for residents. Furthermore, he said any approved rates would stand for the next four years, regardless of the mergers.

Other factors that may be impacted include planning and development controls, right through to how many library books can be borrowed. For example, Woollahra plans to fight the merger move, as it fears a big jump in rates, and is concerned with the different philosophies between Woollahra and Waverley in regards to high-density development.