Top of the Week
Claim that NZ local government reforms support collaboration over amalgamation challenged
The New Zealand Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga claims that reforms to the country’s local government sector to enable better service delivery are based on collaboration rather than amalgamation have been challenged by Wellington Council
The Minister said that the costs of local services were rising faster than council revenues and so councils needed new ways to manage finances, improve efficiencies and “create value for ratepayers”. He also claimed that current structures limited the ability of councils to work together.
“The reforms include more flexibility to collaborate and develop shared services; reorganisation processes that can be locally led and driven; and greater use of Council Controlled Organisations, with improved accountability tools to safeguard local democracy,” said Mr Lotu-Iiga.
“There are also enhanced Local Government Commission powers and processes to enable the Commission to promote and facilitate reorganisations.
“The Better Local Services package creates new options for councils and communities to improve performance and better manage local services and infrastructure”, the Minister said.
Further information provided by the government on the changes also claimed that the package “creates new options for local communities to choose from to improve their own local services and infrastructure” . It also noted that “recent attempts at reorganisations have proved unpopular so the package includes new options to improve services and infrastructure without amalgamations”.
The government hopes that legislation enabling the package of reforms will be passed by parliament by the end of the year so councils elected in 2016 “will have access to the new options” early in their term.
The paper proposed that “that council-led proposals of this type that meet the criteria for consultation, and have public and council support, should not be subject to polls.”
Council’s media release said that in response the council would “cease work on any future local government reorganisation” and the Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, described the proposed reforms as “a mixed bag”.
“Mandatory polls for Local Government Commission proposals are a great idea. Encouraging Councils to amalgamate while circumventing a poll is wrong and is not in the public interest.
“We have consistently said there should be a binding public poll to decide any change to local government boundaries and Council will be making this position clear to Government as part of legislative process,” the Mayor said.
NSW councils head to court over mergers while non-merging councils head to Sept polls
According to media reports Woollahra Council was expected to vote to continue its legal action against the NSW government over forced council mergers.
As noted in TSW12, Council’s case relies on legal advice that the government has made inappropriate use of a section of the Local Government Act that was intended to facilitate voluntary amalgamations. It claims that this invalidates the merger process.
The report claims that council intends to proceed despite the costs involved and the fact that the Government has indicated that it will defend the action vigorously, indicating it will seek costs if the council’s action is unsuccessful.
A number of councils are watching the case closely. Kiama Council has resolved to receive a report on the possibility of joining the Woollahra action and is also holding a non-compulsory poll of local residents to be conducted by the Electoral Commission asking residents if they want the council to amalgamate.
Meanwhile Local Government Minister Paul Toole has confirmed that councils not merging should prepare for elections in September this year.
“If a council is a merger proposal, their council elections are aimed for March of next year,” he told parliament on Tuesday.
“For other councils we have told them it is business as usual. It is business as usual to be preparing for an election in September of this year.”
Qld Government reaffirms local government partnerships…
The Palaszczuk Government has reaffirmed its commitment to “work constructively” with the State’s 77 local governments following the recent council elections.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her Government “valued the partnership with local governments” and she has vowed to strengthen those links to generate jobs across the State.
“I congratulate the new and re-elected Mayors and councillors across the State and reaffirm my Government’s commitment to work with them. My Government has always had a constructive relationship with local government and I am determined that we will continue to work closely with councils across the State,” the Premier said.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government Jackie Trad said the government had been reforming the way it “planned, prioritised and invested” in infrastructure.
“Working with local governments has been an important part of our infrastructure reform agenda and we look forward to continuing this important work with new and continuing local government representatives,” the Deputy Premier said.
… while state votes for four-year terms and incumbent Mayors
While votes are still being counted in last Saturday’s referendum on fixed four-year terms for state parliament the measure looks certain to pass, according to an ABC analysis.
The ABC reported that with 66% of the votes counted, the yes case had a clear lead of 53% to 47% (1,041,608 to 920,026).
The council elections held at the same time as the referendum have shown strong support for incumbent Mayors. In 61 of the state’s 77 councils the incumbent Mayor stood for re-election and at the last count 44 were leading the polls. In Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast the incumbent Mayors were all re-elected with large majorities.
The re-election of these Mayors will also have implications for public transport infrastructure in these cities, particularly Brisbane where the centrepiece of the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s campaign was a commitment to a rubber-tyred metro (see TSW7) and the Gold Coast where the re-elected Mayor Tom Tate promised to provide $160 million towards a stage 3 extension of the light rail to the Gold Coast Airport (see TSW12).
SA Councils seek independent boundary adjustment process
Adelaide independent publication InDaily claims that the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA) is working on a “boundary adjustment process” under which minor changes to boundaries would be negotiated by neighbouring councils with more complex changes overseen by an independent body
It states that LGA CEO Matt Pinnegar raised the concept with InDaily after the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies (SACES) released a report last week calling for the “rationalisation” of local councils in the interests of economic efficiency.
Pinnegar rejected both the SACES report and the concept of forced mergers but said that under the LGASA’s approach “future decisions about council boundary changes and consolidation would be made by an independent body with appropriate skills, experience and knowledge”.
He indicated that the Association was “in talks” with Local Government Minister Geoff Brock who supported reform but also rejected the concept of “forced” amalgamations. With the abolition of the Boundaries Adjustment Facilitation Panel the Minister currently has responsibility for council boundary changes.
As InDaily notes, the LGASA proposal appears to be a response to concerns that a government could decide to adopt forced mergers similar to those in NSW. It claimed that the Minister had told the publication that the government did not support forced amalgamations “simply for the sake of reducing the number of councils” but that legislative proposals on boundary reform were being developed.
Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services
ACT government defers Russell light rail extension until after the election
The ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell have announced that proposals for the extension of the light rail network to the Russell defence precinct will be deferred until after the next ACT election and considered as part of a stage 2 package for the project..
The Government will press on with delivery of the first City to Gungahlin stage of the network. Work is scheduled to start later this year and be completed by 2018/19.
“Just as we sought and were given a mandate for the first stage of the network, we will seek a second mandate at the 2016 ACT election for the next stage,” the joint release said.
“It is encouraging that now both sides of Federal politics back urban rail project and with the Commonwealth the major landowner, employer and beneficiary of a future stage of light rail we will continue to engage with the Commonwealth Government.
“Taking into consideration the light rail master planning work and community consultation that the government is currently undertaking we will make further announcements closer to the election about the next stage of the light rail network under a re-elected Labor government.”
Minister for Capital Metro Simon Corbell said Russell would be strongly considered, alongside other options, in the next stage of Canberra’s city-wide light rail network.
According to media reports the Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he would now develop and seek federal funding support for “a much more ambitious stage 2” involving not only Russell, but the wider parliamentary triangle and possibly Canberra Airport and the Australian National University.
“People will be very clear when they come to vote in the territory election in October what our commitment to stage 2 of the project will be and what we would intend to deliver if the government were re-elected”, he said.
Liberal transport spokesman Alistair Coe said the government should put the entire project on hold until after the election.
“It’s a very big decision for our community and the responsible course of action is to put the project on hold until October,” he is quoted as saying.
Sydney Metro – the big unanswered question
An opinion piece by Jacob Saulwick claims that there is a “$20 billion-plus unanswered question” at the heart of the Sydney Metro project – where will a second branch of the metro run south of Sydney Harbour?
Saulwick notes that north of the harbour, there are long-term plans for a branch to run under Military Road towards the Northern Beaches, but with the apparent decision to drop plans for conversion of the line between Sydenham and Hurstville to be integrated with the Bankstown line metro conversion there are no plans for an alternative. As Saulwick says, “there is patently no need for a train to run to Bankstown every two minutes”.
Saulwick draws on work by Dick Day, the former head of rail planning at RailCorp, to conclude that a second branch should be constructed to deal the “elephant in the room”, the large growth in rail passengers on the Western Line past Strathfield. This could involve either the construction of a completely new metro line or the conversion of the existing all-stops line to metro and a tunnel bypass for the existing suburban line from Homebush to the city.
“It is to be hoped that the government involves the community in a genuine discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the different options, rather than its past practice of making substantive decisions behind closed doors. Those decisions often prove to be wrong,” Saulwick concludes.
Urban Heavy Rail
Sydney rail patronage data shows mixed results
A study by Fairfax media suggests that rail patronage in Sydney has “boomed in the city’s inner rings and slumped across its outer boundaries.”
The report claims that an analysis of Transport for NSW figures. shows that the number of rail commuters has soared in areas such as Rhodes, Auburn and Green Square, where populations are exploding, while at stations such as Gosford, Penrith, Fairfield and Blaxland “rail patronage has fallen by up to 25 per cent despite modest population growth.”
The report quotes Independent transport expert Garry Glazebrook as stating that rapid growth in patronage at inner city sations reflected both an apartment boom and gentrification in these areas.
Patronage had fallen along train lines where there had been no improvements in service speeds or frequencies, such as the Blue Mountains and Central Coast lines. The decline could also be linked to an ageing population and an improved road network.
This is a shorter edition of TSW than usual due to the Easter weekend. Have a happy and safe break.