Considerable change has occurred over recent years to the roles and responsibilities of local government authorities across Australia and is continuing.
The sector is facing a need to address new State and Territory government priorities for financial sustainability; regional development; and increasing expectations for community involvement in decision-making.
Local governments operate within diverse economic, social and demographic contexts in different regions, so their planning processes require innovative approaches to take account of individual and regional circumstances.
Examples include where planning in growth areas needs to provide equitable solutions for conflicting land use proposals; calls for new infrastructure to respond to changing demographic patterns that includes additional affordable housing in areas experiencing intense urbanisation; and increasingly, expectations that each region will be able to adapt to the specific threats from climate change they expect to encounter.
At the same time, tension continues between rising costs and constrained avenues for collecting revenue. The processes for implementing legislative changes and responding to Council amalgamations can also place strains on their day-to-day operations. But many argue that structural changes to their sector can readily bring about a decline in the availability of financial capital as well as in the skills base needed manage the complex steps involved.
Others acknowledge that structural changes provide opportunities for improving the delivery of services and managing their infrastructure assets. They can also facilitate the adoption of better governance arrangements, which include how Councils address the evolving expectations about the conservation of environmental resources and cultural assets that are traditionally threatened by economic development.
Local Government in NSW
Local Government in NSW is one jurisdiction that is undergoing a period of deep and far-reaching reform that is heralding a new approach to how it works with the NSW State Government. Changes include:
- Council mergers in metropolitan Sydney, and regional NSW.
- The establishment of Joint Organisations, bringing together councils, including some which have recently merged, and the NSW Government to work on priority regional matters.
- Amendments to the Local Government Act covering corporate governance and other areas.
- The development of Regional Plans across regional NSW.
- The commencement of the Greater Sydney Commission and the development of district plans, along with the establishment of Sydney Planning Panels which will commence shortly.
The NSW Government has announced it will seek some amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act later in 2016. These will improve community engagement and clarify the hierarchy of local, regional and State plans a well as the development assessment process.
A number of common objectives underlie these reforms:
- Strategic planning based on the integrated planning and reporting framework.
- Active engagement with local communities.
- Strong corporate governance structures and processes.
- Fostering sustainable growth.
- The delivery of better services and infrastructure such as parks, playgrounds, sporting facilities and roads
Responding to these simultaneous reforms is placing extra demands on Council’s staff and other resources.
The Middle Way can assist Councils navigate change associated with mergers and other reforms by enabling the harmonisation of strategic planning, reporting and service delivery, and facilitating community engagement.
We draw on our senior experience working for the NSW Government in planning, environment, transport, natural resource management and program review portfolios, along with over a decade experience consulting to government and industry.
Our services include:
- Facilitation of strategic planning, infrastructure asset investment and land use planning.
- Stakeholder consultation, including government agencies and community groups.
- Options analysis, prioritisation and decision-making.
- Review and integration of strategic and operational plans and programs necessitated by Council mergers.
- Issues analysis and the preparation of briefing material and reports for government or community audiences.