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Woollahra seeks court appeal on merger

AAP logoAAP 25/07/2016 By Frances Mao

Woollahra Council in Sydney's exclusive eastern suburbs will push ahead with its legal battle against the NSW government's forced merger plans by seeking an appeal of a recent adverse judgment.

The Land and Environment Court last week dismissed the council's bid to stop its forced amalgamation with Randwick and Waverley councils because the council had not "established any of its grounds of challenge".

However following a meeting with its solicitors on Monday, Woollahra Council said it was confident it had adequate legal grounds to appeal in the NSW Court of Appeal on the "same basis" as its original challenge.

"This is just a further way of demonstrating how serious we are about protecting the democratic rights of our community and serving their best interests," Woollahra mayor Toni Zeltzer said in a statement on Tuesday.

She said the community's strong opposition to the mergers had driven the decision to proceed with litigation.

"The community were not given a fair go during the state government's public inquiry," she said.

The council will also seek to suspend the costs order made against it under Chief Judge Brian Preston's ruling on July 20.

Ms Zeltzer then said that bearing the legal costs of the government's case were worth it given the "huge cost" residents would face if the merger eventuated.

Ratepayers would pay up to $696 more each year over a 20-year period as the area comprises of higher land values than those in Randwick, according to the council's modelling.

The judgment against the council was a major victory for the Baird government, which has sacked more than 40 councils under its controversial council amalgamation plan.

Woollahra Council's challenge was an important test case challenging the validity of the May reforms, with a number of other council merger fights under scrutiny in the Land and Environment Court hinging on that outcome.

A spokeswoman for Local Government Minister Paul Toole made no comment on the appeal request, but said the original judgment showed that the government had followed the correct processes in proposing the council mergers.

"The Local Government Act outlines what must be done before a council is merged and the government satisfied those requirements."

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