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Waverley, Randwick, Woollahra Amalgamation Unlikely

By Marcus Braid on December 1, 2014 in News

Photo: Eileen Dover

Photo: Eileen Dover

Woollahra Council has indicated a clear preference to amalgamate with the City of Sydney, rather than Waverley and Randwick Councils, should the state government introduce forced amalgamations in NSW.

Professor Graham Sansom’s report to the state government found it “absolutely clear” that 152 councils in NSW was unsustainable and Sydney’s 41 councils needed to be “significantly reduced” to between 15 and 18.

Woollahra Mayor Toni Zeltzer firmly rejected any prospect of amalgamation, but confirmed that the council “had more synergies with the City of Sydney.”

“There’s very little common ground between Woollahra and Randwick, so how do we come to common ground on policy together?” Cr Zeltzer said.

“If I was going to do a straw poll among our councillors, there would be very few who were interested in a Waverley and Randwick merger, because they see very few synergies with Waverley and Randwick.

“We’ve had a good relationship in the past with Waverley in that we do share resources, but the demands of our communities are different.

“In our area, there’s a real feeling for retaining verdant surroundings, so we really pride our trees and our green space. We’re on the harbour and they are not. We have a very strong commitment to heritage conservation.”

All councils will prepare a report to the state government due mid next year displaying their level of scale and sustainability into the future.

Cr Zeltzer, a Liberal, said it was impossible for her to support amalgamation as it currently stands.

“Amalgamation might serve the state government very well, but I wasn’t elected to represent the state government,” she said.

“I’m a Liberal and I have great respect for our Liberal state government, but I wasn’t elected to represent their best interests.

“We hold the view that if we can deliver on the bulk of the reforms that are being recommended in the Samson report, there is no need to amalgamate and lose your sense of identity.

“In addition, Woollahra has been rated as a sustainable council into the future. This is not done by us, but by an independent body that looks at how we’ll fare in due time. While we’re sustainable, there seems to be very little argument to support a case for amalgamation. The business case isn’t there.

“The Samson report says there is no guarantee of cost saving, so one wonders what is the purpose? It seems there’s little justification except a leap of blind faith that bigger is better.”

Randwick Council resolved on September 23 they it doesn’t support the forced amalgamation of Randwick.

Councillor Tony Bowen, a former mayor, criticised the NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance’s recent comments that Sydney should have “five councils at best” and that “local government is terrible”.

“It just gives the game away,” Cr Bowen said. “They’re just pulling our leg with all this testing of our financial sustainability because there’s a political plan going on to amalgamate the councils.

“We’ve got a very pro development state government. For the treasurer to describe local government as terrible is offensive.

“Whenever you put an economic argument to Randwick, it doesn’t fly. A lot of people would say there’s self-interest from the council and all that, but if you want to pull apart something that’s been around for 150 years and provides enormous support for the community, you need a good reason.

“We did a study that showed there could potentially be savings with Botany Council included, but I understand that’s not acceptable to the Libs because Botany is a Labor council.”

Cr Bowen also criticised Waverley Council’s approach to the prospect of amalgamation.

“What’s going on behind the scenes is quite interesting,” he said. “Waverley Council, for example, have voted against giving their residents a say and having a plebiscite about whether they want to amalgamate or not – that’s extraordinary.

“That gives the game away because it tells us the Waverley Liberals are too afraid to take this proposition to their own residents; instead they’re going to do it through a survey or something.”

Waverley Council General Manager Arthur Kyron said the council had not yet established a formal position on any proposed merger with neighbouring councils, and that residential consultation would form a key part of their response to the state government.

“Council has resolved to develop a process to determine the organisation’s response to the State Government’s reform package,” he said.