NSW councils will work with the State Government to help fast-track community infrastructure projects, but will seek new powers to provide balance before allowing Ministers to interfere by choosing which projects proceed.
Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott said councils strongly supported the need to work quickly and flexibly to deliver community infrastructure as economic stimulus during the COVID-19 recovery.
“However, our main concern is the risk of intervention by the Planning Minister into the operation of councils will lead to uncertainly, which will prevent councils spending, preventing them from stimulating local economies and investing in infrastructure for the public good,” Cr Scott said.
“This over-reach could have implications for how councils deliver their program of community projects and future financial planning.”
Cr Scott was speaking after Planning Minister Rob Stokes foreshadowed moves to force councils to pool their infrastructure funds drawn from developer contributions: money collected from each development as its share towards providing local parks, sporting fields, footpaths and local roads that make residential developments liveable and attractive to communities.
“The State Government must not dictate how a council uses the funds already earmarked for a particular community purpose or project,” Cr Scott said.
Cr Scott said LGNSW had worked closely with the State Government to help ensure councils were in a position to help drive a locally led recovery from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, bushfires and drought.
“Councils stand ready to help kickstart the economic and social recovery in local communities,” she said.
“To provide councils with the confidence to spend in this uncertain environment, the NSW Government needs to provide a commitment to work collaboratively with us, assuring councils they will not intervene in how we manage and deliver the local services and infrastructure their communities need.
“Councils are the level of government closest to their communities, and best placed to understand and implement community wishes: that is the whole basis of local democracy.
“Ministerial intervention risks undermining this process, denying the community the chance to have their say and reducing the confidence of councils to invest.
“Councils have an ongoing task of identifying and delivering local infrastructure needed to support their growing communities.
“But the reality is that every day their hard-working professional staff who are acquiring land, and designing and delivering local parks, sporting fields and other facilities, face complexity, funding shortfalls and land acquisition delays.
“I am confident the Planning Minister, having consistently promised local government he will to work with, encourage and support councils, will ensure Local Government NSW is provided with concurrence powers to achieve our goal of supporting our communities through the COVID-19 pandemic.”