Woollahra Council to keep battling merger

Woollahra Council could be back in court as early as Monday next week after deciding to appeal a court judgement on its forced amalgamation with Randwick and Waverley Councils.

Chief Judge Brian Preston ruled in favour of the state government in the Land and Environment Court on July 20, causing a serious set back to Woollahra Council’s argument that the public inquiry process preceding the merger was flawed.

The council’s legal team argued that the public were not given reasonable notice of the inquiry and they questioned the independence of consultancy firm KPMG. The firm wrote a report claiming a bounty of $149 million in savings over 20 years from the three-way merger.

As part of its appeal, the council will also look to suspend an order for costs made by Justice Preston which would see it pay the government’s legal costs as well as its own, something that could land the council with a $1 million bill for its troubles.

Government News understands that the council has spent about $692,000 prosecuting its anti-merger case so far and an appeal will cost in the region of $120,000 but Woollahra Mayor Toni Zeltzer has said this would be dwarfed by the rate increases and disruption that she said would follow the proposed merger.

Three Supreme Court judges will hear the case in the Court of Appeal, the highest court in New South Wales.

Ms Zeltzer said councillors unanimously decided to push ahead with the appeal after meeting the council’s legal team last night (Monday), a meeting which she said “confirmed adequate grounds for legal challenge on the judgement.”

“The decision to appeal was made on the same basis as our original legal challenge. This is just a further way of demonstrating how serious we are about protecting the democratic rights of our community and serving their best interests,” Ms Zeltzer said.

“With such strong community opposition to forced amalgamation our community deserves to have a say in its future and we believe the community were not given a fair go during the state government’s public inquiry.”

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