Committee for Sydney calls for local government reforms

A year after the NSW Government scrapped its council amalgamations policy, the Committee for Sydney has released a report calling for the capping of council rates to be scrapped, the establishment of a Council of Metropolitan Mayors to work alongside the Greater Sydney Commission and the introduction of a new fund to pay for local infrastructure.

On 27 July 2017, the NSW Premier announce that the Government had abandoned forced council amalgamations. This meant that metropolitan local Governments, including Mosman, Willoughby, North Sydney, Lane Cove, Hunters Hill, Ryde, Strathfield, Canada Bay, Burwood, Ashfield, Ku-ring-gai, Hornsby, Woollahra, Randwick and Waverley were no longer forced to amalgamate.

In Greater Sydney the number of councils was reduced from over forty to just thirty-three. These new councils ranged in size from Hunters Hill, with just 14,000 people, to Councils like Blacktown and Canterbury — Bankstown with over 300,000 people.

The Committee for Sydney has called for a number of reforms that it believes will help to deliver better governance at a local level.

The report, A New Era for Local Government, calls for the end to ‘rate capping’, where IPART sets the maximum amount NSW councils can collect in general revenue through an annual peg, describing it as “a blunt instrument, with little economic rationale behind it, which hinders local institutions on which much of our civic life depends”.

It also calls for the establishment of a Council of Metropolitan Mayors in Sydney to work closely with the Greater Sydney Commission on major strategic issues facing the city, particularly housing, transport and other infrastructure needs. The Council would be able to reflect local community views on challenging areas of policy such as housing densification.

It also proposes the introduction of a Metropolitan Infrastructure Fund through a levy on local rates or land to support local councils generate a pool of funds to expand and improve open space or maintain civic infrastructure, like roads and libraries or support town centre renewal.

Committee for Sydney Director of Policy, Eamon Waterford said that at a time when Sydney is rapidly changing, there was pressing need for local government that is genuinely 'fit for the future'.

“Local government performs a central role in managing and making Sydney. As the tier of government closest to local communities, it does not merely deliver services — it shapes neighbourhoods and places. If Sydney is to manage the growth pressures it is experiencing, if we are going keep our city accessible, liveable and loveable, if we are going to ensure all our citizens have a reasonable quality of life, then we need a strong, professional and well-resourced local government.”

“The Committee champions a greater role for local government because cities need strong and vocal advocates at a local level. Mayors, councillors and their staff can develop and articulate a vision for city-shaping that goes beyond their boundaries. Local service delivery is important and valued, but the role of local government is much more than that. Elected politicians and officials are uniquely placed to understand the spatial, governance and geographical challenges facing our city — so a louder voice in a time of momentous change in our city is both needed and welcome.”

The report, A New Era for Local Government, is available here.

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