Residents Must Have Their Say On Mergers Before It’s Too Late

The NSW Government has outlined a process by which Council mergers will be decided and residents only have until 28February to have their say.

The Hills Shire Council has been a long-time supporter of Local Government reform and the need for greater efficiencies across the local government sector.

The NSW Government’s proposal would see The Hills Shire Council broken into two; with suburbs above the M2 merging with Hawkesbury City Council while suburbs south of the M2, including parts of Baulkham Hills, North Rocks, Carlingford, Winston Hills, Northmead and Oatlands, becoming part of an expanded Parramatta City Council which includes parts of Auburn and Holroyd.

Hills Shire Mayor Dr Michelle Byrne said the potential loss of suburbs south of the M2 to an expanded Parramatta City Council would end more than a century of historic community ties and only the united voice of residents and businesses could stop the change from happening.

In November 2015, Council resolved to nominate Hawkesbury City Council as a preferred amalgamation partner, on the condition that The Hills and Hawkesbury would not lose any of their current suburbs to another LGA.

“The Government’s plans to remove some of our most established suburbs with such strong Hills connections was a major blow,” Mayor Byrne said.

“I’m extremely disappointed, particularly considering we were told that boundary adjustments were out of the question and that only full mergers would be considered. That is why we nominated a full merger with Hawkesbury and gave up on our original plan to slightly alter our boundaries with Hawkesbury, Hornsby and Parramatta.”

“How absurd is it for one of the State’s fittest and top-performing councils to be the one that is broken up to support unfit neighbours?  It’s akin to modern day ‘Robin Hood’ behaviour that trashes our history, hard work, sacrifice and success.”

Mayor Byrne said that the strong ties and sense of belonging for suburbs like Carlingford, North Rocks, Baulkham Hills and Winston Hills was reciprocal.

“Residents and businesses in these suburbs feel a strong connection with The Hills and Council has consistently represented these areas and provided local government services to them.”

“I cannot see how the Parramatta proposal is in the best interest of those suburbs and it’s hard to imagine how they will be proportionally represented by that Council, given its focus will inevitably be on Parramatta CBD and Sydney Olympic Park.

“I can see these residents being forgotten by the Parramatta-led Council, as they’ve been forgotten by Parramatta City Council before on issues like light rail. When the NSW Government announced they would build a Western Sydney Light Rail network, The Hills was the only LGA to make the case for Carlingford.”

“At the time, Parramatta City Council was pushing for Parramatta to Macquarie Park via Eastwood. It was only after The Hills Shire Council’s #LightRail4Carlingford campaign gained momentum and Parramatta elected a new Mayor that the Council changed their position.”

Mayor Byrne said that the communities of interest between Hills suburbs extended to where residents shopped, engaged in community groups and sent their children to school.

“A great example is Murray Farm Public School. Under the current proposal it will end up in Parramatta City Council, but much of its catchment area will remain in West Pennant Hills which will remain in The Hills Shire.”

Mayor Byrne said that given the mammoth task already facing councils to merge existing organisations, the NSW Government should avoid complex boundary adjustments.

“This boundary adjustment is a distraction that is unnecessary and I think will prove to be unpopular with our residents.  A survey we conducted last year showed a resounding 90 per cent of residents opposed the Government’s expanded Parramatta idea.”

“The reform process needs to be as simple as possible to ensure that our ratepayers will experience minimal changes to the way they interact with Council.”

“Apart from that, a merger of The Hills and Hawkesbury would mean an enormous amount of the finances earned through years of efficient governance at The Hills would need to be invested to get Hawkesbury’s assets and infrastructure up to scratch.”

“Given the huge financial investment required in Hawkesbury, the new Council will need to retain its urban base and keep its financial strength intact in order to provide local government services covering 3161 square kilometres of a Hills-Hawkesbury Council, predominantly rural with an expansive asset base that the rural population alone cannot handle.  That’s why Hawkesbury Council is in the state that it is and the only way for Hawkesbury residents to get access to an equitable local government service is for the Hills urban base to support it.”

Mayor Byrne said that Council and Councillors could only do so much and that it was up to the residents to make their voices heard by making an online submission.

“If this issue is important to you, especially if you live in Baulkham Hills, North Rocks, Carlingford, Winston Hills, Northmead and Oatlands then you must have a say. It will be too little too late if the Government proceeds and then the residents complain about it later.”

“The NSW Government isn’t interested in the opinions of Mayors and Councillors. Our own submissions have been ignored.  They need to hear from the people. The only way they are going to change their minds on this issue is by declaring what community you’d rather be a part of and I would encourage each and every resident to make a submission by the 28th February 2016 as well as taking the opportunity of letting their State Local Members of Parliament know.”

“I can’t stress it enough –  the residents in Carlingford, North Rocks, Baulkham Hills, Winston Hills, Baulkham Hills, North Parramatta and Oatlands have to emerge out of the festive holiday season and actively participate if they don’t want to be a part of an expanded Parramatta City Council.”

To have your say on the proposal to merge Hills suburbs below the M2 with Parramatta City Council, visit:https://www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au/proposals/parramatta-city-auburn-city-the-hills-shire-holroyd-and-hornsby-shire-councils/

To have your say on the proposal to merge Hills suburbs above the M2 with Hawkesbury City Council, visit:  https://www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au/proposals/hawkesbury-city-and-the-hills-shire-councils/