Will larger Council areas accomplish better planning decisions? Food for thought.
Possibly the most controversial topic in NSW Planning reform is the amalgamation of Sydney Councils. Will the proposed Council amalgamations result in improved governance and allow for better planning decisions? Or will larger council areas result in decision making losing touch with the local area?
Local Governments had until the end of June to submit their ‘Fit for the Future’ responses and prove they have ‘sufficient scale and capacity’ to cope with future demands, or they face a merge with a neighbouring Council.
Figure 1: NSW Governments ‘Fit For the Future’ program to reduce the number of Sydney councils from 42 to about 15. Image source: Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)
Councils are being evaluated based on four criteria: scale and capacity; sustainability; infrastructure and service management and efficiency. In regard to scale and capacity, Councils have been set a population target over 100,000, which at the time of the 2011 Census, was only achieved by 18 of the 42 Sydney Councils.
The main argument in favour of bigger councils is that it increases strategic capacity of Councils, however this is met by a strong opposition that argues that amalgamations will lead to a diminishing representation of local communities. 'Local councils should remain local' is a popular slogan found in many Council Customer Service Centres across Sydney.
Councils' stances on proposed amalgamations are as follows:
Hunters Hill, Ryde, Lane Cove, Ku-Ring-Gai, Manly, Pittwater, Auburn, Holroyd, Botany Bay, Leichhardt, Strathfield, Ashfield, Canada Bay, Burwood, Hurstville, Marrickville, Woollahra, Mosman, Fairfield, North Sydney, Kogarah, Randwick, City of Sydney, Liverpool, Canterbury
Willoughby (still consulting), Rockdale (still doing consultation), Parramatta (still consulting), Waverley (preparing report on consultation for council)
No merger required:
Bankstown, Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Hawkesbury, The Hills, Penrith, Sutherland, Wollondilly
Councils which are resisting mergers most loudly are ones with a long history and a strong local identity. Among the most vocal opponents are council areas where the borders give a certain cachet to their residents, such as Mosman or Hunters Hill. Others have long histories such as the City of Ryde, which traces its history back to 1841. Under the new plan Ryde would be cut in two.
UDIA NSW Chief Executive Stephen Albin has said that although NSW as a whole does not support the amalgamations, they will undeniably create efficiencies in the NSW Planning System. “Forty three Councils in Sydney, each with their own set of planning processes, makes the job of delivering development incredibly difficult, especially when a project crosses one or even two Council boundaries,” he said.