The Berejiklian government says it will push ahead with plans to forcibly merge two northern Sydney councils despite its decision not to appeal a court ruling which blocked the amalgamation.
The government this week missed the deadline to appeal a NSW Court of Appeal ruling that the proposed merger between Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby councils could not proceed in its current form.
The court found Ku-ring-gai Council had been denied procedural fairness because the government failed to provide access to two reports used to justify the mergers.
But a spokesman for Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton on Friday told AAP the government remained committed to the merger “given the clear benefits it will have for the local communities”.
“There are a series of matters before the courts … which is why the government is not considering one case in isolation,” he said in a statement.
The government now has the option of going back to the Boundaries Commission – an independent statutory authority – to restart the merger process.
Ku-ring-gai Council mayor Jennifer Anderson says the government’s decision not to challenge the ruling shows its forced council mergers policy is “fatally flawed”.
“Our ratepayers should not be subjected to an undemocratic process based on secret reports, which has no demonstrable benefit to them, only to see their rates increase by up to 30 per cent in five years’ time,” she said in a statement to AAP.
The council says its made several requests to meet with Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Ms Upton to discuss the council’s future but have heard nothing.
The government is facing four other legal challenges over proposed mergers with Woollahra Council’s appeal due to be heard in the High Court next month.
Greens MP David Shoebridge says the Ku-ring-gai court decision had challenged “every forced amalgamation that has either happened or been threatened to date”.
“The Court of Appeal said the obvious, that it is blatantly unfair to forcibly amalgamate a local council on the basis of a secret report,” he said in a statement.
Mr Shoebridge has urged the government to abandon the “undemocratic” policy.
There are 20 already-amalgamated councils across NSW with five more to be created in Sydney if their legal challenges are unsuccessful.
Ms Berejiklian decided to walk away from proposed regional mergers but forge ahead with those in the city after she replaced Mike Baird as premier in January.