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Think Local

Planners, councillors and residents across the state say they have been "left in limbo" by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as some important local projects are currently being put on the back burner while councils fight the state government's amalgamation proposals. 
While the bigger councils of North Sydney and Willoughby say most of their strategic plans will go ahead this year, the situation is very different in Mosman. Deputy mayor Roy Bendall tells North Shore Living that the smaller council is being punished by the NSW government because it has "opposed the amalgamation so vehemently". 

In December 2015, the Office of Local Government issued general principles and guidelines to Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby councils about the "appropriate exercise of their functions during which the merger proposals are under consideration". 
Under this section 23A order from the government, councils are administratively forbidden from entering into new planning projects that are over a stated amount of $250,000 - unless the project was funded prior to the amalgamation announcement late last year. 
The North Shore councils do, however, have the ability to apply straight to Gabrielle Upton, the NSW minister for local government, for approval - therefore bypassing the legislation. 
Cr Benda says this planning process has been further complicated by the fact Mosman and North Sydney councils are still fighting the government in court over amalgamation. 

He says Mosman's plans for a major extension and parking capital works program in Raglan Street west car park have been indefinitely delayed due to the section 23A provision. 
"This is not fair to residents or local businesses who are relying on new and better parking access in the area," he tells North Shore Living. 
"The 23A order states we are prevented from undertaking some of our biggest initiatives, like this car park. "I feel the council has been cut off at the knees. 

"At the moment, we have just 53 parking spots here but the new plans could see up to 200 available. It would enable us to build other facilities in the immediate area and it would be a great utilisation of space. 
"Unfortunately, we will also be unable to redevelop the library and civic centre site as they also fall under the 23A guidelines." 
Local resident Heather Oswald says she moved from Willoughby to Mosman for a "better quality of life" and says the state government is being unfair in limiting development projects in her new area. 
"They are stopping the council from performing its functions for residents," she tells North Shore Living. 

"I love the low-rise village feel here and there is a great sense of community In the area and I don't see what the benefits are of merging Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby. The council elections are providing more uncertainty." 
Another lower North Shore resident, David Cook, says Mosman is currently being disadvantaged in favour of North Sydney and Willoughby. 
"If amalgamation does eventually go ahead, then all projects will be up in the air again," he concedes. 
However, some works are confirmed to be going ahead. Mosman is in the process of refurbishing the Balmoral Esplanade area, which includes modern seating and repair work to retaining walls, handrails and access stairs. 
Mosman mayor Peter Abelson says the area is a "national treasure" and one of the council's most valuable assets. It is part of the $17 million capital works program approved prior to the 23A legislation. 
At present Willoughby Council is not fighting the amalgamation proposals in the courts and general manager Debra Just says, "Many Willoughby Council projects are still in the pipeline for 2017/18, in accordance with previously assessed strategic plans." 
These projects include the revitalisation of the CBD and enhancing the natural management of surrounding areas, Including the Middle Harbour and Lane Cove catchment area and the Gore Hill recreation park. 
Another major refurbishment project will also take place at the Willoughby Leisure Centre, with repainting, waterproofing, retiling of the walls, new fittings and fixtures, and a new café area at the venue. 
Willoughby Council is also embarking on an ambitious street lighting improvement initiative in order to update the LED technology. It is also in the initial stages of establishing a storm water harvesting and recycling program. 

As for North Sydney, Mayor Jilly Gibson says a "vibrant and dynamic CBD" is now being delivered by Council through a multibillion investment as was promised. 
"This really is an exciting time - currently under construction is a $200 million development in Mount Street and the creation of a new 44-level tower and open-space plaza," she says. 
Cr Gibson adds that the area now has beautiful parks, cafes and restaurants and the new metro connection will open up North Sydney to residents and businesses. 

The council's latest approved project is the Ward Street masterplan, which is a combination of new residential, commercial and community planning. The $7 million redesign of Brett Whiteley Place, located in North Sydney, is also near completion, and includes an amphitheatre and events space with contemporary lighting for night time functions. 
A North Sydney Council spokeswoman says, despite the amalgamation uncertainty, North Sydney is operating very much as "business as usual". 

"We had a comprehensive plan before the section 23A was put in place, so we have been able to continue with a range of significant projects," 
she says. However, Cr Bendalt accuses the state government and larger councils of trying to control the urban planning agenda to the detriment of other smaller councils in the area. 
"In the long term, it will have dire consequences - especially for a region like Mosman. We will lose control of our planning," he states.

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