By Julian Bajkowski
Powerful property development industry group Urban Taskforce Australia has thrown down the gauntlet to New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell over local government reforms, saying that Sydney’s 43 existing councils need to be boiled down to just six “regional groupings with Councils of Mayors and Shared Service Centres.”
The property lobby is pushing the State government hard to streamline the existing number of councils and their bureaucracies after the O’Farrell government pulled-down a balloon it floated in the tabloid press over potentially forcing council mergers – a move that would break a key election promise.
“If the State Government will not force amalgamations of councils then it should force a regional grouping of councils,” said Urban Task Force chief executive Chris Johnson.
“There must be a better alignment between the State Government's approach to delivering services through a regional structure and the grouping of councils within this structure.”
Mr Johnson’s main bone of contention with the present approach is that there are just too many councils “to relate to the State Government for metropolitan government and planning.”
The development industry’s renewed push for a more cohesive and coordinated bureaucracy comes as councils across the state hold meetings and public fora to feed into a wider review of councils that will inform a what essentially a new masterplan.
“The State Plan should set the structure for metropolitan governance through 6 restructured Regional Organisations of Councils established formally under the Local Government Act,” Mr Johnson said.
Developers have a direct interest in ensuring that the state’s notoriously ad-hoc approach to development over 200 years is improved because it will heighten their prospects of getting a better return for the capital invested in major projects because the metropolis will function better as a whole – rather than in disconnected pockets.
Poor access to reliable public transport and clogged roads have long been a sore point because long travel times from developments away from the city dampen investment enthusiasm and the potential for greater regional expansion.
“The strategic planning function must occur on a more regional level and larger shared planning offices will change the culture of council planners to think more broadly and in a more business-like manner," Mr Johnson said.
"The T-Corp study into council financial sustainability in NSW found that 61.2 per cent of the massive infrastructure backlog was in public roads and this is where actions at a more regional level with a shared service centre philosophy can better tackle this problem."
To spur the government’s thinking along, the lobby group has released a wish list of “20 Essential Actions” it says is a “response” to the Independent Local Government Review Panels’ similarly titled report “20 Essential Steps”.
The Urban Task Force claims its list “outlines a case for reform that retains councils as the 'local' level of government without the need for forced amalgamations."
The group’s eight proposed ‘key actions’ include:
• 6 New Regional Organisations of Councils
• 6 Councils of Mayors
• Keep 'Local' in Local Government
• Shared Service Centres
• Business Like Approach
• 6 Centres of Excellence for Planning
• 6 Centres of Excellence for Roads
• Popularly Elected Mayors
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