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Pittwater Council to be resurrected?

Think Local

Before last year's amalgamation of Manly, Pittwater and Warringah councils into the new Northern Beaches Council, a survey showed that 89 per cent of Pittwater residents were against it.

Now, due to growing unrest on housing density, high rises and traffic issues, advocates for the former Pittwater Council have engaged a legal team and are considering taking the NSW government to court to recover the council.

Leading the campaign is Protect Pittwater Association president Bob Grace - who served for 20 years on Pittwater Council. He reveals the community group has enlisted solicitors from firm Beswick Lynch.

"We are fighting to protect Pittwater," Mr Grace tells Peninsula Living, "If we go to court, we first of all have to get permission to commence proceedings out of time. This is because we didn't commence legal proceedings within three months of the councils' merger.

"We've certainly got the support of Pittwater residents, who want to keep the area as it is. They're worried about what's going to happen. You only need to look at Frenchs Forest, Manly and Dee Why. That says it all...

" Legal action, if it occurs, will be financed by donations and crowd funding, including from fundraising events that were held between May and June. The $10,000 target was smashed in its first week. But more funds will be needed should proceedings eventuate.

The group, which includes former Pittwater mayor Lynne Czinner, is also circulating a petition calling on the state government to reconstitute Pittwater Council. Supporters have already collected more than the 250 signatures needed

under the Local Government Act to spark a government inquiry into the amalgamation.

"We have retained our legal team and are consulting with it over legal proceedings," Mr Grace adds.

"The fact residents have to spend money to fight to get our council back is a disgrace.

"The amalgamation of financially sound councils by the NSW government was a travesty of democracy."

However, former Warringah mayor Michael Regan - Chair of the Northern Beaches Council's Economic Committee- insists the group should be looking forward and, "at the positives that have come from the merger, like the record spend of monies in the Pittwater area that just wasn't ever available with the small council they had.

"They really should be looking to hold to account the new councillors, once elected, to deliver the projects that have been consulted and agreed on, and lift the service levels," he says.

Moves for de-amalgamations are occurring in the NSW State Parliament, with a bill passed in June that was put forward in the Upper House by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF) and amended by the Greens. 
The bill, supported by all parties except the Coalition, gives residents in forcibly amalgamated councils the right to a binding vote on de-mergers. It is expected to be presented to the Lower House in early August. 
Save Our Councils Coalition spokesperson, Phil Jenkyn, says, "We place a very high value on what the Upper House has done and it is now time for all those Liberals and National Party members who secretly oppose this forced merger agenda to stand up and vote with the other parties in the Lower House and pass this bill.

"Otherwise many of them stand to lose their seats at the next state election.

"The group hopes to follow in the footsteps of other councils that have opposed amalgamations and are fighting them in court, including Ku-ring-gai Council, Woollahra Council, Hornsby Shire Council and Mosman Council.

Tom Sherlock, from Save Our Councils Coalition, adds, "I'm delighted this action has been taken by Pittwater as they're a strong community committed to what's important to them.

"The Northern Beaches is a geographic area, but not everyone shares the same local issues and community focus. There are approximately 260,000 people on the Northern Beaches - it's lunacy in terms of community government. 
"The most important thing for a council is to create social and community engagement. The government thinks bigger councils are better, but mega-councils have poorer governance and less accountability. 
"When councils get too big, they focus on bureaucracy instead of community, and are more likely to be undemocratic and arbitrary."


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