Mayors say Newcastle-Lake Macquarie merger unlikely

A MERGER of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie city councils would create NSW's biggest council, with a population of 350,000 people, give the area a stronger voice and save costs.

Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate and Lake Macquarie Mayor Greg Piper concede the idea might have merit, but believe a merger is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Prominent academic Howard Dick, conjoint professor at the University of Newcastle's business and law faculty, put the idea back on the agenda yesterday.

In an opinion piece in The Herald, Professor Dick said joining the two councils was a "no brainer".

He suggested the councils should merge and be based at Glendale, freeing up Newcastle's City Hall and civic area for a University of Newcastle campus.

Cr Tate said Newcastle council would not give up City Hall.

"We may build another administration centre in the vicinity, that's been talked about," Cr Tate said.

Cr Tate said council mergers should only occur with mutual agreement.

"The prospect of amalgamation with another council has to be driven by community desire," he said.

"If there's a benefit, it should be considered."

Cr Tate said a merger between Newcastle and Port Stephens councils "could be food for thought".

"It could have more benefit than joining with Lake Macquarie. I'm making the point that there's more than one way to do an amalgamation," he said.

Lake Macquarie Mayor Greg Piper said Professor Dick made a good, articulate argument but now was not the time for Lake Macquarie and Newcastle councils to merge.

"When we get serious and start reducing the influence of the states and give power back to the regions, then we'll look at regional government," Cr Piper said.

Cr Piper said he was not convinced that benefits would outweigh disadvantages to Lake Macquarie residents.

University vice-chancellor Nick Saunders said there were "a number of locations in Newcastle that could be suitable for the development of a city campus".

"It is encouraging to see so much debate about the future of our city and the important role the university plays in this region," Mr Saunders said.

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