Tweed ratepayers could become part of a super council stretching from Tweed Heads to Grafton or split between smaller coastal and rural councils under a range of options put forward for a local government review.
An extraordinary meeting of Tweed Shire Council yesterday unanimously adopted six options for boundary changes and voluntary amalgamation with other councils.
The options are part of a submission to the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel which meets in Ballina this Monday to hear the views of councils under the Northern Region Organisation of Councils (NOROC) umbrella on improving their strength and effectiveness.
Other northern rivers councils will meet this week to finalise their submissions for the panel, but already Byron Shire and Lismore City council mayors have criticised Tweed’s amalgamation proposals.
It’s believed that if amalgamations are not proposed voluntarily by councils, the state government can force them to do so.
The option for the super or ‘Greater Northern Rivers Council’ brings Tweed, Kyogle, Byron, Lismore, Ballina, Clarence and Richmond Valley together with a total area of 20,468km2 and a population of 277,874.
Other variations for amalgamation involve adjustments to the Tweed boundaries to take in the Byron Shire areas of Ocean Shores and Billinudgel.
Another option is to split the Tweed into a coastal council embracing the more high-growth coastal and urban areas as a ‘borough’ with its own representation, which staff say is an area that has a ‘close affinity to south-east Queensland and the Gold Coast’.
Every option put forward involves neighbouring Byron Shire becoming part of other larger council areas, which came under fire from Byron mayor Jan Barham.
Cr Barham says Byron locals were unlikely to support the proposals, which involved the Tweed ‘expanding its reaches into Byron Shire’ as well as the options that include amalgamating either Lismore and Byron or Byron and Ballina.
She said Byron was a special case owing to its unique character and having to provide for a high number of tourists, and representation should be kept local. There was also no evidence proving greater efficiencies from amalgamations which had occurred more recently in other states.
Byron Shire Council meets tomorrow, Thursday, to finalise its response for the panel, which has to report to the state government by the middle of next year.
Tweed Cr Joan van Lieshout said amalgamations were ‘the way of the future and will no doubt happen’ because of the need to integrate infrastructure and planning controls.
‘So we should brace ourselves for a new way of local government,’ Cr van Lieshout said.
Outgoing Tweed Cr Kevin Skinner said he favoured the super council as ‘the smartest way to go’ because high growth would continue in the area.
Mayor Barry Longland said he didn’t favour any particular option and was happy to have a range of options put on the table.
But pressed afterwards on whether he favoured the super council model, Cr Longland said he had doubts about it.
‘I can’t see how it would work, because there’s a community of interests within the whole footprint that dictate that we probably need to have representation down at that level,’ he said.
Cr Longland said the amalgamations were portrayed in the media as a ‘radical’ step with the Tweed making ‘takeover’ proposals’, but that had ‘nothing to do with it’.
‘I fully expect that next Monday in Ballina every council in the NOROC footprint will have a similar submission, and I would be dismayed if they don’t, as they’re not responding to the terms of reference,’ he told Echonetdaily after the vote.
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said some council amalgamations were sensible but others were not the answer to financial problems confronting local government, as they did not achieve big savings.