In 1992, Pittwater seceded from Warringah and formed its own council. Now, Warringah wants its northern neighbour back – and Manly as well.
Warringah Council passed a motion on Tuesday night that it would seek to merge with Pittwater and Manly councils to form a northern beaches council under the state government’s Fit for the Future program, which is dangling a $258 million carrot before the state’s 152 councils to merge voluntarily and reduce their number substantially.
“The benefits of one council organisation for the northern beaches are clear,” Warringah Mayor Michael Regan said in a statement. “It would mean better value for rate payers and better ability to plan for the entire region. Concerns about loss of local representation are a red herring – as this can be maintained, and even increased, depending on the governance model that is adopted. I call upon our neighbours to support the recommendation for the creation of a new northern beaches council for our community.”
A report tabled at Warringah’s council meeting recommended endorsing the creation of one northern beaches council over splitting Warringah into two and merging each half into Manly and Pittwater councils. It was carried 9-1. A merger with half of Warringah is the more palatable option for Manly. “Neither Manly or Pittwater are particularly keen about being taken over by Warringah,” Manly mayor Jean Hay said.
Pittwater council voted in October to reject a northern beaches super council. “Pittwater’s councillors rejected the Fit for the Future proposal of merging with neighbouring councils Manly and Warringah to form one council,” Pittwater Mayor Jacqueline Townsend said. “Pittwater Council remains committed to advocating for a strong and independent Pittwater.”
Pittwater’s secession from Warringah more than 20 years ago resulted in a multimillion-dollar administrative and court battle over the ownership of council assets. The Warringah mayor at the time, Councillor Brian Green, said then: “My overall conception is the whole separation issue will have to go down as the worst blot on the horizon of contemporary local government.”
Warringah’s move this week echoes that of four larger western Sydney councils – Blacktown, Liverpool, Parramatta and The Hills – which have also welcomed the idea of talking to smaller neighbouring councils about merging.
Any new Sydney council formed by a merger would be given a grant of $10.5 million – plus further funding up to $12.5 million for every 50,000 residents above 250,000.
The Independent Local Government Review Panel, chaired by Professor Graham Sansom, recommended Sydney’s 41 councils be reduced to 15-18.
Councils have until the end of June to either apply for mergers or explain why they are financially sustainable in their current form.
On releasing his panel’s report this year, Professor Sansom said: “NSW councils spend around $10 billion each year and employ some 50,000 people. Better local government is vital for the state’s future. We literally can’t afford councils that are unsustainable or lack the capacity to meet community needs and work effectively with state agencies. No change is not an option.”
with Angharad Owens-Strauss