The State Government has announced its decision on reform for our local councils, with the Town of Vincent due to merge with Perth, albeit with uncertainty over future voting rights, and most of Mount Lawley, all of Inglewood and parts of Menora, Dianella and Yokine to fall under a substantially enlarged City of Bayswater, along with the Town of Bassendean.

Not everyone is happy…

The changes have sparked an outcry from the City of Vincent in regard to a mooted  proposal to reduce the weighting of residents’ votes, and a negative response from the Mount Lawley Heritage Society who fear a reduction in the heritage protections that are in place for Mount Lawley, Inglewood and Menora under the City of Stirling.  Whilst the state government appears to be saying little about the voting concerns, the City of Bayswater Mayor Sylvan Albert is on record (link here) this week as saying that the proposed double sized City will adopt the current heritage policies governing the affected City of Stirling suburbs.

Downsides and upsides…

Whilst I empathise with the Mount Lawley Heritage Societies’ concerns over the risk to heritage protection and preference for the status quo, I think that having the bulk of those heritage listed suburbs transferring to Bayswater is a better outcome for residents than the previously revised proposal which saw Stirling retaining Mount Lawley but Inglewood moving to Bayswater – to my mind this would have resulted in even further fragmentation of Beaufort Street and risked two different approaches to two suburbs where the properties, amenities and residents have significant sympathies.

And whilst the City of Stirling for the most part seems to get suburban infrastructure projects right (parks, recreation centres),  I’m yet to be convinced of its ability to support the development of vibrant, near city social and retail hubs like its section of Beaufort Street in Mount Lawley and more specifically, Inglewood – think of what’s happened in Maylands around Eighth Ave/Whatley Crescent in the last few years and the Town of Vincent’s section of Beaufort Street. That said, the City of Bayswater hasn’t always got it right either, particularly with community initiated projects – there were the issues with the Maylands Festival funding and the recent palaver getting the popular Maylands Hawkers Markets re-approved.

I also remain concerned as to how the changes will affect major projects and town planning, such as the sorely needed upgrade of the land around Dianella Centro that the City of Stirling was planning (which has to be one of the most poorly utilised spaces and biggest eyesores in local area) or the proposed Town of Bassendean re-zoning (link here).  To date, there has been little indication from Bayswater that I’ve seen as to how it intends to progress or develop  on these type of projects.

But all of this could be moot if the Nationals block the legislation or affected residents vote to stop the mergers, although it appears residents affected by boundary changes will not get to have a say on the changes (see ABC news article here).

But are we really going to be better off?

And by this I don’t just mean economically in terms of rates, but also culturally in terms of the efficacy of larger councils in fostering and preserving community and individual neighbourhood identities. After all, that should be the bottom line, shouldn’t it? Otherwise we’re just spending millions of tax payers dollars and creating upheaval for nothing. This is where I see the risk of failure. Of super councils failing to see, appreciate and nurture the different communities within them. Failures in leadership, consultation and vision. The failure of sameness and the easy path of ordinariness.

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Ordinary – I confess I shudder at the word, yet this is what I most fear – lots of money and angst to simply see no change or an average outcome.  Here’s hoping we don’t let it happen.

If you’re interested in keeping up with the debate and changes you might want to check out the following:

New City of Bayswater boundary map

City of Perth proposed changes

City of Stirling webpage on local government reform

City of Vincent comments and announcements

City of Vincent Mayor John Carey’s recent opinion piece in the West (need Facebook access to access)

PS. On the bright side, apparently residents will get to have their say on proposed council name changes which must come as a relief to those in the City of South Perth and Town of Victoria Park, which has been infamously given the same “South Park”.  Personally, I’m becoming fond of “Greater Morley” – yes, I am just kidding. But if you’ve got some good suggestions, leave them as a comment below!