Proposed Council Merger

UPDATE 10 – 21 SEPTEMBER 2016

Justice Moore of the NSW Land and Environment Court yesterday delivered his judgement in relation to proceedings taken by North Sydney and Mosman Councils in relation to the proposed merger between North Sydney, Mosman and Willoughby. Specifically, the Court found that:

– the Delegate who had been assigned the task of inquiring into, and reporting on, this proposed amalgamation had failed, adequately, to have regard to one aspect of the elements mandated by s 263(3) of the Local Government Act 1993;
– the consequence of this failure is that the report prepared by the Delegate, and provided by him to the Boundaries Commission and the Minister, does not constitute a report, in this regard, in satisfaction of the statutory requirements of the Local Government Act; and
– accordingly, the Delegate has not completed the task for which he was appointed and thus, at the present time, there is no proper statutory foundation for this proposed amalgamation. This means that this proposed amalgamation remains in the hands of the Delegate.

It remains unclear at this time what the next action of the NSW State Government will be. Such action could include instructing the Delegate to address deficiencies in the report, a more substantive recommencement of the consultation process, or an entirely different response.

Full details of the judgement can be found at https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/57df5763e4b0e71e17f54344

UPDATE 9 – 12 MAY 2016

The NSW Government announced today the formation of 19 new Councils throughout NSW. The Minister for Local Government also announced in principle support for a further 9 new Councils, subject to the finalisation of current Court proceedings. Given court action instigated by North Sydney and Mosman Councils, the proposed amalgamation of Willoughby, North Sydney and Mosman, remains in the “pending” group.

Further detail is available at https://www.strongercouncils.nsw.gov.au/pending-councils/mosman-municipal-north-sydney-and-willoughby-city-councils/

UPDATE 8 – 29 MARCH 2016

Willoughby Councillors tonight considered the NSW State Government’s proposed three Council merger between Willoughby City Council, North Sydney Council and the Municipality of Mosman. Council’s media release in relation to the position determined can be found at http://www.willoughby.nsw.gov.au/about-council/media-releases/council-considers-three-council-merger-proposal/. A copy of Councils draft submission and indicative ward maps can be found at item 15 on the Council agenda for 29 March 2016, available at http://www.willoughby.nsw.gov.au/Council-Meetings/Agendas—Minutes/General-Council-Meetings/2016-03-29/.

UPDATE 7 – 23 MARCH 2016

Over the past two nights, the NSW Boundaries Commission held public hearings into the proposed merger between Willoughby City Council, North Sydney Council and Mosman Municipal Council. These meetings were hosted by the appointed Delegate, Mr. Ian Reynolds. Approximately 40 residents attended at Chatswood, while around 200 attended the Mosman meeting. My address to the Mosman hearing can be found at https://gailgg.com.au/backup-oldgail/index.php/2016/03/28/address-to-boundaries-commission-2/.

UPDATE 6 – 21 MARCH 2016

Around 50 residents tonight attended a very productive public meeting in Council Chambers, to inform Council about their views on the State Government’s proposed Willoughby, North Sydney and Mosman merger. Issues raised by residents included encouragement for a stand-alone position; the importance of protecting Willoughby’s natural heritage, and the role that the e-restore levy plays in this regard; the importance of local representation and the risk of this being lost in a merger of the scale proposed; the need for an integrated approach to planning in St Leonards and support for the role of a popularly elected Mayor. These comments and those to be made over the next two nights at the OLG Delegate’s Public Inquiry meetings in Chatswood and Mosman, will be important in shaping Council’s response to the State Government proposal, to be considered by Council on Tuesday, 29 March. As Mayor, I also reminded residents and ratepayers that this is a new proposal to be considered by the Delegate separately from Willoughby / North Sydney; to be wary of “submission fatigue”; and before the closing date of 8 April, to make fresh submissions through the online facility available at https://www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au/proposals/mosman-municipal-north-sydney-and-willoughby-city-councils/.

UPDATE 5 – 25 FEBRUARY 2016

The Minister for Local Government, The Hon Paul Toole MP, today advised that he has made a further merger proposal involving a combination of Willoughby City Council, North Sydney Council and Mosman Municipal Council. Submissions in relation to this proposal close Friday, 8 April, 2016. Registrations are open to attend public inquiry hearings on Tues 22 March, 2016 at The Chatswood Club; or Wed 23 March, 2016 at The Mosman Club. Further information is now available at https://www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au/proposals/mosman-municipal-north-sydney-and-willoughby-city-councils/.
Willoughby Council will be considering this proposal carefully in the coming weeks.

UPDATE 4 – 24 FEBRUARY 2016

Submissions to the NSW Council Boundary Review close this Sunday, 28 February, 2016. Following conclusion of Willoughby Council’s debate last Monday night, I have also now finalised my own submission. A copy of this submission is available at https://gailgg.com.au/backup-oldgail/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Submission-to-NSW-Council-Boundary-Review-240216-Final-1.pdf. While this is a personal view, if you have any thoughts, queries or concerns, please let me know.

UPDATE 3 – 2 FEBRUARY 2016

The NSW Boundaries Commission today held public hearings into the proposed merger between Willoughby City Council and North Sydney Council. These meetings were hosted by the Delegate, Mr. Ian Reynolds, with speakers limited to 5 minutes for individuals and 10 minutes for organisations. My address to the hearing can be found at https://gailgg.com.au/backup-oldgail/index.php/2016/02/04/address-to-border-commission-inquiry-2nd-feb-2016/.

UPDATE 2 – 13 JANUARY 2016

Councillors today met with Ian Reynolds, the State Government appointed Delegate reviewing the proposed Willoughby City Council / North Sydney Council merger. Ian will be holding public meetings on Feb 2 at the Rydges Hotel North Sydney, with residents invited to address the meeting regarding the proposal.  See here for more details.

UPDATE 1 – 6 JANUARY 2016

The Minister for Local Government today released details of the Proposal to Merge North Sydney and Willoughby Councils, and of the initial consultation process proposed.  A copy of the proposal and details of how to make a submission (closing 5.00pm 28 February 2016) are provided here.

BACKGROUND – DECEMBER 2015

On October 20, 2015, the NSW State Government released IPART’s assessment of local government Fit for the Future proposals. Willoughby’s proposal was that our Council stand-alone. However, while meeting financial criteria, IPART determined that Willoughby was not “fit” on a basis of its scale and capacity, and the State Government advised that a further stand-alone proposition was not an option.  Accordingly Council was required to determine a preferred strategy going forward. My position has been stated on many occasions, but in summary was, and is:

  • I am proud of Willoughby, of our financially strong position and our unique culture reflected in both “village living” and a thriving CBD.
  • I would continue to support a “stand-alone” option should that be possible, and would be confident of our ability to continue to deliver value to Willoughby residents.
  • I do not believe that a mega merger of Willoughby, North Sydney, Mosman, Hunters’ Hill, Lane Cove and part of Ryde, as suggested by the ILGRP, to be in Willoughby’s best interests. Indeed, our own consultative process indicated this is far from preferred by Willoughby residents. I believe, and an independent study commissioned by WCC confirmed, that there are likely significant benefits in a Willoughby / North Sydney combination.
  • I do not believe it is Willoughby ratepayers’ best interests to commit to a costly public or media relations campaign, or to engage lawyers to conduct a legal challenge.

Accordingly, on November 9, 2015, at Willoughby Council’s meeting considering these matters , I voted in favour of a voluntary merger (as did a majority of Councillors 9:1, with 3 absentees); and on a first preference for a merger with North Sydney (voting was unanimous 9:0, with 4 absentees).  A voluntary merger with North Sydney then represented the Willoughby’s preferred position – a position North Sydney rejected.

Last Friday, December 18, I was invited to a webinar briefing by the Premier and Minister for Local Government about the Government’s amalgamation plans.  On that call, the Premier advised that in the context of proposed Local Government Reform, the State Government intended that the number of urban local councils will reduce from 43 to 25, and that it was specifically proposed that Willoughby City Council merge with North Sydney Council, with details on that proposal to be made available to Councils in early January.

Subsequently, the following additional information has been made available:

Among other things, this information suggests:

  1. That the proposed mergers would be effected through the Local Government Act, and the Boundaries Commission, a process taking several months and requiring community consultation, and public hearings;
  2. A commitment from the NSW Government that rates would be frozen on existing paths for four years after the formation of newly merged Councils;
  3. That NSW Government contributions of $20 million will be made available to Willoughby & North Sydney, to meet merger costs and to investing in services and infrastructure, irrespective of a voluntary merger not being achieved to date; and
  4. Projected annual average annual savings from the merger of $5.9 million from 2020

While dates have been rumoured of May 2016 and March 2017, for dissolution of existing Councils and election of new merged Councils respectively, these remain unconfirmed at this time.

So, for now, at least until early January and likely for a few months, it will be business as usual at Willoughby City Council. My focus as Mayor, and that of Council’s senior officers, will be on helping Council through this period of uncertainty, and on working with the State Government and North Sydney Council to ensure the interests of all of our residents, workers and businesses are well served in whatever may follow.

For additional information on Council’s decision making, refer to: http://www.willoughby.nsw.gov.au/Council-Meetings/Agendas—Minutes/General-Council-Meetings/2015-11-09/