Coalfields council merger threat

 Coalfields council merger threat


March 18, 2013, 10:30 p.m

CESSNOCK City Council is under threat of amalgamation with Maitland City Council, councillors and businesspeople believe.

The corridors of power in the Coalfields have been rife with speculation that a merger is on the cards.

The Lower Hunter being named in a NSW government review that is planning council mergers has heightened concerns.

High-profile developer Hilton Grugeon said he was terrified that Maitland council might have Cessnock council ‘‘foisted on it’’.

‘‘It’d be like West Germany copping East Germany,’’ Mr Grugeon said.

Cessnock Greens Cr James Ryan questioned whether Maitland was ‘‘looking to take over some of our land for expansion’’.

‘‘Maitland council is busily in the process of using up every bit of land above the floodplain to do more subdivisions,’’ Cr Ryan said.

Maitland mayor Peter Blackmore said his council was interested in commonsense boundary adjustments.

‘‘We are opposed to forced amalgamations,’’ Cr Blackmore, an independent, said.

‘‘We don’t want to be taking over Cessnock’s problems.’’

Mr Grugeon said Dungog Shire Council ‘‘could well be disbanded and some of it go to Maitland’’.

Cr Blackmore said: ‘‘We could look at taking over an area of Paterson, but it’s not as simple as it sounds’’.

The O’Farrell government has appointed an independent panel to review local government in NSW.

The panel would form proposals for amalgamation, shared services and ‘‘new regional entities’’.

A spokesman for NSW Local Government Minister Don Page said the government was reviewing all aspects of local government.

‘‘We’re expecting the final report after mid-April,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘The Coalition’s position is there will be no forced amalgamations and that hasn’t changed.’’

Cr Ryan plans to raise the amalgamation matter at a Cessnock council meeting on Wednesday.

‘‘We don’t want to be amalgamated and neither do we want to take someone else’s land,’’ Cr Ryan said.

He said Cessnock had its own identity and sense of community.

‘‘We’re not culturally aligned with Maitland,’’ he said.

He questioned the panel’s ‘‘so-called independence’’ and warned payments could be offered to councils as incentives for amalgamation.

(From James Ryan:  In Queensland Councils have just voted to de-amalgamate. Our current NSW Government should be supporting vibrant local democracy instead of encouraging amalgamations. We do not want to become like Brisbane where, in practice, local government does not exist anymore, it has been replaced with a system of single member wards with only one Councillor out of 27 not being a member of either the Liberal or Labor parties.)

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