NSW government still need to rethink service model if Sydney council mergers don’t go ahead: Chris Johnson

NSW government still need to rethink service model if Sydney council mergers don’t go ahead: Chris Johnson
NSW government still need to rethink service model if Sydney council mergers don’t go ahead: Chris Johnson

GUEST OBSERVATION

The NSW government should consider a shared service model as an alternative to amalgamations of councils in the Sydney Metropolitan Area if there is to be a rethink of the mergers.

The state government has expended considerable time and money on a thorough and comprehensive review of local government and it would be a shame if no reforms were implemented. There are alternative options which allow councils to share services without forcing amalgamations.

A good example of a shared service between councils is the planning and development assessment of major projects over $20 million.

Council planners could be merged into six ‘centres of excellence’ across metropolitan Sydney to undertake strategic planning and development assessment of large projects. This would align the council planning system with the six districts established by the Greater Sydney Commission. There would also be a more efficient pooling of expertise and increased career opportunities in this model. The six planning centres of excellence should drive housing supply across Sydney.

It is the large projects that need more dialogue with state government agencies so the link with the Greater Sydney Commission would help this. The assessment of small local projects, which represent around 95% of development applications, would remain at the local level.

The planning centres of excellence would have a board composed of representatives of the individual councils in the district. There may well be other services like roads maintenance that are better managed at the district level.

If plebiscites are planned with local residents about council amalgamations then ways to reform the provision of services must still be proposed that may not relate to full amalgamation. The earlier review of local government did propose joint organisations and shared service centres as viable alternatives to full amalgamation.

The NSW government has made a significant commitment to the Greater Sydney Commission and its six districts. This reform should lead to the integration of appropriate council services into the same structure.

Chris Johnson is chief executive officer of property development industry group Urban Taskforce and can be contacted here.

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Council Planning Sydney Metro

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