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Then rapidly growing Hills district looking towards new housing developments at Rouse Hill. Then rapidly growing Hills district looking towards new housing developments at Rouse Hill. Featured
06 February 2014 Posted by 

Opportunity missed says pro-reform Hills

By Anthony Stavrinos

THE NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel has missed a golden opportunity for much-needed reform, according to The Hills Shire Council.

But the overwhelming majority or western and northern Sydney councils are relieved the Panel’s final report, handed down earlier this month, did not recommend forced amalgamations.

The Hills Shire Mayor, Dr Michelle Byrne, says the Panel has ignored a forward-thinking plan to significantly adjust boundaries  - a plan unanimously supported by Hills Shire Councillors.

But Mayor Byrne said while the final report of the Review Panel “contained some very good points and made a great case for Local Government reform”.

“The report makes note of the fact that overwhelmingly, councils are opposed to amalgamations,” Mayor Byrne said.

“We’re one of the few forward thinking councils that haven’t adopted a head-in-the-sand approach, yet we’ve been given the same recommendations that we were given in April 2013.”

Mayor Byrne said the report further underlined the strong financial position that The Hills Shire Council was currently in.

“The report paints a pretty grim picture for the future of Local Government should it remain in its current form,” she said.

In June, Hills Shire Councillors unanimously backed a plan that would see a new, larger Council formed, covering suburbs that currently fall under the boundaries of Hills, Hawkesbury, Hornsby and Parramatta.

The plan would have resulted in fewer councils for Sydney’s North West.

“We’re one of only seven NSW councils to have a positive financial outlook. Something needs to be done to make Local

Government more sustainable as an industry,” Mayor Byrne said.

“It’s time that Local Government in NSW realised that this means fewer councils, not more grants and subsidies from the State and Federal Governments.

“There’s no way that councils opposed to amalgamations will consider voluntarily merging. To reduce the number of councils in NSW, there needs to be some forced amalgamations.”

Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) and Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (NSROC) is opposed to the concept of forced amalgamations.

WSROC said it welcomed the release of the final report, stressing that many of the recommendations would need further consideration.

“We are pleased to see the final report and applaud the great transparency and consultation which has characterised the work of the Panel and the review process,” WSROC president, Liverpool Councillor Tony Hadchiti said.

Meanwhile, The Property Council NSW, the property industry’s peak state body, has backed Mayor Byrne’s call for forced amalgamations.

The Property Council said it would continue to advocate for comprehensive reform to improve the performance of local government.

“We seek cultural change, greater accountability, improved financial management standards, better service delivery, and progress on the infrastructure backlog,” it said in a statement.

“These goals can be achieved through amalgamations and boundary changes, the removal of rate pegging tied to improved fiscal discipline, debt financing for infrastructure, and incentives to increase professionalism.”

It said that while the NSW Government had maintained its 2011 election commitment of no forced council amalgamations, Professor Sansom had repeatedly warned that amalgamations were necessary in order to deliver a stronger and more effective system of local government.

It noted that NSW Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, was yet to provide the government’s reponse to the report and its 65 recommendations.

“The Property Council agrees with the Panel that NSW has too many councils and that boundaries are out of date.

Meaningful reform cannot be achieved through voluntary amalgamations alone, and we urge the Government to be bold and introduce compulsory amalgamations of certain councils.”

On January 8, 2014, the Minister for Local Government, the Hon Don Page MP, released the final report of the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel, Revitalising Local Government.

The Panel, led by Professor Graham Sansom, undertook extensive consultation with councils, industry and the community before formulating their report.


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