BY LUCAS BAIRD
It may have a reputation for being posh and civilised, but it was anything but last Thursday, when residents from Woollahra local council area made it clear they were opposed to IPART’s proposed merger with Waverley and Randwick.
Over a hundred turned out to Club Rose Bay last Thursday February 4 to let their views be known at a public meeting between the three councils and their communities.
At a public forum residents had the opportunity to air their concerns to the independent delegate Dr Robert Lang who will decide the outcome of the proposed amalgamation.
Waverley General Manager, Arthur Kyron,Woollahra Mayor Toni Zeltzer and Randwick Mayor Noel D’Souza all spoke at the meeting.
At the evening session of the meeting, Randwick made clear that it was keen on the three way marriage of the councils.
Waverley Council offered its support to Randwick’s decision to merge at the forum.
Waverley General Manager Arthur Kyron said that like Randwick, Waverley had previous problems with the global city option, but was in favour of the coastal merger.
“Waverly has never supported being a part of the very large, global city option and wanted to control our own future,” Mr Kyron said.
“Waverley is speaking in favour of the new, much smaller option. One which does reflect a community of interest.”
Many residents from Woollahra took this opportunity to speak out against the merger and sat in a sizeable bloc, jeering from the crowd and making their opinions on what was said known.
Mayor of Woollahra, Toni Zeltzer, was part of this bloc and took her time at the podium to voice her concerns on the matter.
“I am here to represent the unanimous support of my fellow councillors and 81 per cent of our community that want Woollahra to remain independent,” Cr Zeltzer said.
Cr Zeltzer noted that Woollahra residents would experience a rise in rates if the merger goes ahead, while Randwick would experience an apparent decrease.
“Essentially we will be footing the bill for the merger, while Randwick residents experience a decrease in their rates. How is that fair?” she said.
“The idea that bigger is better is a myth. There is no evidence to support a bigger is better approach to reform,” Cr Zeltzer said.
One resident accused Randwick Council of turning their backs on the community by favouring the proposed amalgamation with Woollahra and Waverley Councils.
The Randwick resident, who would only identify as Dr Jayasuriya, took aim at his local councillors.
“Randwick councillors turned their backs on their colleagues on the unanimous resolution of council, on the affirmations that they made to their residents,” Dr Jayasuriya said.
“Ignored the plight of the community and succumbed to the pressure from the local government minister to join forces with Waverley to consume Woollahra.”
Dr Jayasuriya claimed that he could produce an “illuminating” example of these allegations.
“I submit that the fundamentally flawed process of how it conducted and analysed this community survey is an illuminating example,” Dr Jayasuriya said.
“Only 30 per cent of the survey respondents supported amalgamation, the remaining 70 per cent either don’t support or are not sure,” he said.
Labor Randwick Mayor, Noel D’Souza, did not directly reference that statistic in particular during his address to the forum and delegates earlier that day.
Cr D’Souza instead opted to assert that around half of the residents who responded to the survey were in favour of an amalgamation, with the other half against.
Cr D’Souza indicated that the resident’s problems were not associated with amalgamations in general but with a previously proposed, much larger, global city option.
This option would have merged City of Sydney, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra and Botany Bay councils.
“They [residents] feared a loss of local representation and thought that the area too big and that it lacked a community of interest,” Cr D’Souza said.
But, Cr D’Souza claimed that the community reacted positively to a smaller merger solution.
“When asked if mergers must occur, some 90 per cent of respondents chose a smaller eastern suburbs merger,” Cr D’Souza said.
“When we asked what people most associate with, the majority said the Eastern Suburbs.”
Cr D’Souza also identified that Randwick would benefit from a merger in several different areas, from finance to services and facilities.
“In terms of our own financial modelling which was independently analysed, audited and verified, we estimate this merger option will result in increased services to the value of $235 million,” Cr D’Souza said.
“A merger of Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra Councils provides an opportunity for improved coordination in planning and delivery of foreshore and recreational activities.”
“We now have an opportunity to expand our services to ensure we provide the highest quality service to our residents and community.”
“A new eastern suburbs council will be able to provide more services and benefits to my community,” he said.
Mr Kyron claimed that the majority of Waverly residents were in favour of the merger.
“The average for the first preference showed that 64 per cent of people in Waverley favoured a merger of some sort,” he said.