The writing’s on the wall

writing on the wall‘Fit for the Future’? 

IPART has now released the methodology it will use to assess a Council’s ‘Fitness fir the Future’. Somebody has already coined the name for the merged Councils on the North Shore – North Shore Council. The Councils of Willoughby, Mosman, North Sydney, Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde have failed to come to agreement on merging. This plays immediately into the hands of the State Government appointed IPART to recommend new boundaries.

The Government set down four criteria for IPART to assess:

  • scale and capacity to engage effectively across community, industry and governments
  • sustainability
  • effectively managing infrastructure and delivering services for communities,
  • efficiency

Most Councils have focused on the three latter criteria. However, IPART has recently re-emphasised the importance of the first criteria.

Population is part of the ‘scale’ analysis. Over the next 20 years Sydney will need to accommodate an additional 2 million people. For the North Shore Council, the magic figure bandied about is 250,000 people. Willoughby currently has around 70,000 people. There are three ways Willoughby, if Willoughby goes it alone or even with North Sydney, tit can address the population criteria:

  1. merge with adjoining Councils
  2. Upscale population density within Willoughby by around a factor of four. This would require high rise buildings (similar to the Chatswood and St Leonards CBDs) along main rail and bus routes plus other current residential areas.
  3. a combination of the above

Given that Willoughby Council is only actively looking at staying the same or merging with one or two other Councils, the implied outcome is that we would need to accommodate a massive increase in population density – more high rise.

The phrase ‘engage effectively across community, industry and governments’ has particular meaning. Developers have been arguing for many years the need to make development easier and less costly. The Government is already changing the Local Government and the Planning Act to cater to developer demands. Sixteen current rules are being axed. More will follow. Any Council not considering a compliant merger will need to demonstrate now, how they intend to make it easier for development to occur.

A big ‘bugbear’ for many Councils is their political composition. Willoughby Council is a predominately party political free Council. The majority of Councilors are Independents. To the State Government this means representatives of the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) brigades. A likely outcome of amalgamations will be Councils more likely dominated either by Labor or Liberal parties. Both the Government and the Opposition see this as beneficial. Councils such are Willoughby are clearly in the Government’s sights.

Most Councils, including Willoughby, have been focusing on financial parameters in mounting their case they are ‘Fit for the Future’. They will likely be blindsided by Government and ultimately amalgamated, probably by ‘boundary adjustments’ recommended by IPART.

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