COUNCIL MERGERS CANNED AS LOCAL ELECTION LEAD-UP GETS UNDERWAY
After all the hubbub, controversy, and blame games, it is now certain that the proposed ‘Super Council’ merger between Waverley, Randwick, and Woollahra Councils is no longer going ahead.
This outcome was the result of a long wave of vocal resistance to the forced mergers in various councils across the state, including Woollahra Council, which, until the mergers were called off, had engaged in serious legal action, and had been granted a full High Court appeal in an attempt to overturn a Supreme Court decision to uphold the merger.
The State Government’s attempts to force regional council mergers had already been abandoned in February. The decision to scrap the remaining mergers mid-way through the implementation of the state-wide regime means that there will now be serious size discrepancies in councils across the state.
Some councils, including Waverley Council, have also voiced concern about the wasted money they have spent in preparing for their mergers, however a spokesperson from Waverley Council recently told The Beast that the “State Government has confirmed it will compensate local councils”.
Both Waverley Mayor Selly Betts and Randwick Mayor Noel D’Souza have welcomed the revocation of the merger.
“We have always said Waverley’s first option was to stand alone if we could,” Cr Betts said.
“We are in a really strong financial position and will now be working towards developing a new Community Strategic Plan.
“Although today’s announcement means a merger is off the table, the business efficiencies identified in this process, projects undertaken, and positive relationships formed will be able to be adapted and developed to ensure better services and improvements for our communities.”
Mayor D’Souza’s exemplified a similar attitude regarding the end of the mergers.
“I am very pleased that the NSW government has now listened to the community,” Cr D’Souza said.“Randwick City Council’s position has always been that we oppose mergers and would prefer to stand alone.
“Our council is one of the largest, strongest and most financially viable in the state.
“The NSW government’s now defunct ‘Fit for the Future’ program was orchestrated to force council mergers.
“They told us ‘no, change is not an option’ and created a process that forced mergers.
“Now it’s time to get on with the job of serving the residents of Randwick City.”
This appears to mark the end of what has been an incredibly protracted stand-off between state and local governments.
In the wake of the revocation, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian sought to explain the reason for the decision.
“While the amalgamations program had been successful and ratepayers in the merged councils were benefitting… the government’s merger policy has always been about putting ratepayers first and it has become increasingly clear that certain councils were happy to continue lengthy and costly legal proceedings,” she said
It sounds like a roundabout way of admitting that the little guy won.
With merger speculation now out of the way, local council elections are set to take place on Saturday, September 9. The full list of mayoral and counsellor candidates has not yet been released, but we advise readers to check www.elections.nsw.gov.au, which is being updated regularly.