By CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
The proposed ‘marriage’ of Waverley and Randwick councils is off to a rocky start, with neither of the two Liberal Mayors able to agree on where chambers could be located.
The difference of opinion flared up at a Waverly Council meeting last Tuesday August 18.
Waverley’s Civic Heart plan is a $60 million development, and has been rumoured as a potential location for the eastern suburbs super council.
However, at a Randwick Council meeting in July, Liberal Mayor Ted Seng proposed that merged headquarters must be located in Randwick, to ensure that residents in the southern part of the LGA had access to council services.
Waverley Greens Councillor Dominic Wy Kanak moved a motion to put the Civic Heart development on hold because of the uncertainty of the council’s future.
According to Clr Wy Kanak, Waverley Mayor Sally Betts’ response to his motion was an emotive and irrelevant tirade attacking the Greens party.
“I was quite surprised because it was off topic, it became obvious she did not want to debate the issue,” he said.
“She was saying the Greens hadn’t made much contribution to Waverley, for some reason, she wanted to stay away from that issue. It was more of an emotional to and fro and attack on the Greens.”
Speaking to City Hub, Mayor Betts denied that the Civic Heart site was going to be used as a council chamber, and said that the plan was a normal part of running a council.
She said such planning should not be put on hold because of the looming decision regarding the amalgamation of councils.
Mayor Betts said it was early days as submissions had not even been processed by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
“If the state government decides that we should merge and could merge, then the government has said a transition committee will be formed, consisting of mayors and general managers and at least one other councillor, and they will discuss things such as where chambers and other services should be located,” she said.
“If there was amalgamation at the 2016 state election, councils can’t stop operating because we don’t know the decision.”
Waverley Labor Councillor John Wakefield said that it was inappropriate for the mayor to be investigating a council facility of this scale because the question of a merger had not been resolved.
“Clearly its poor management,” he said.
“The proposal for Civic Heart predates the merger, which makes it worse because therefore it was done without consideration of the merger or its outcome,” he said.
“A survey was conducted and only one in seven residents wanted a merger, and only 1 in 9 businesses wanted it.”
“What Betts really wanted was a merger of Woollahra, Waverley and Randwick. And she wants that because it will give the Liberals control of the eastern suburbs,” he said.
Clr Wy Kanak said the two Liberal councils had rushed into a merger before discussing details.
“Our approach is that if the relationship or headquarters is not yet decided between the mayors, spending that amount of money should at least be adjourned until we know what the state government are going to say about,” he said.
“Mergers should be done democratically, referendums should be held in LGAs to put the question of amalgamations to the people.”
“We’re talking about councils with a history of over 150 years and for it now to be merged so quickly without that fundamental attention to detail, we see it as a dismantling of local democracy, to not give people chance,” Clr Wy Kanak said.
“It is needless to proceed with it when the two mayors can’t agree.”
Save Our Councils Coalition member Tom Sherlock said that it was confusing because Waverley had agreed with a merger, yet was still proceeding with its ‘Civic Heart’ plans.
He attended the Waverley Council meeting as part of a Save Our councils Coalition Protest. He said the merger of Waverley and Randwick, like other mergers, will have large costs and increase bureaucracy.
“Local councils will come to regret it because as economies and human beings, we are social animals,” he said.
“We are living in strange times, the government wants to amalgamate councils, but they haven’t put forward any concrete case as to why that makes sense.”
He cited a recent paper which found it costs on average 8 million per two councils merged. “When you put together monopoly service providers, you get bigger, more cumbersome bureaucracies.”
Mayor Betts said that the best use of the land proposed for Civic Heart in Bondi Junction needed to be considered separately to council mergers.
“If Waverley and Randwick end up merging, most of the services will stay where they are, we’re not going to relocate the lawn-mowers in La Perouse to Vaucluse.”