In a recent news story, the Sydney Chamber of Commerce was reported as saying that Sydney was overgoverned with 43 local councils covering the Sydney metropolitan region. I tend to agree – most Sydney councils are fairly small geographically and in population, and the Brisbane City Council (in which I lived for many years) provides a good example of a large council that works reasonably well – it has the ability to plan and execute large projects and can borrow large sums of money.
The Brisbane City Council was formed in 1925 by the amalgamation of 20-odd councils (I think I remember seeing a plaque in Kenmore commemorating the opening of a bridge by the Indooroopilly Shire Council). If one were starting with a clean slate, one could construct a Sydney Metropolitan Council covering the current “metropolitcan Sydney”, which would probably include the area from the Hawkesbury west to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, south to Campbelltown and east to cover Sutherland Shire. However, localism is very strong in Sydney and a council covering 4,000,000-odd people may be thought to be too large by many people. There are of course a number of large City Councils in the world – perhaps the best known is New York City – which of course has many more responsibilities than Australian local councils.
Maybe a better analogy would be London, which has many boroughs and an overarching Greater London Authority that has responsibility for a limited number of areas including transport. Currently, each Sydney local council understandably seems to be concerned about its own little patch of territory – I don’t see much discussion about broader planning – and each council seems to have very limited ability to borrow. Perhaps it would be useful for there to be an elected Sydney-wide body to be responsible for broad Sydney-wide planning and transport within the Sydney metropolitan region rather than for this to be done by the NSW state govt. Such a metropolitan Sydney council could be modelled on the London Greater Authority – an elected Mayor and a small council of about 25-30.
I know that people would be concerned about losing the ability to have “their say in the local area” and so existing local councils could be retained for truly local activities – e.g. for planning on the very local scale and considering DAs.