Armidale Regional Council was well represented at the recent Local Government NSW (LGNSW) online meeting with NSW deputy premier John Barilaro to discuss various issues facing the region's local councils.
Both the mayor Ian Tiley and his deputy Debra O'Brien were present at the event LGNSW president Linda Scott facilitated last week for more than 120 local government mayors, councillors, and general managers from across NSW.
Ensuring local government is an integral part of developing the roadmap out of the COVID lockdown was on the agenda, along with boosting vaccination rates, potential COVID impacts on upcoming elections, and the threat to local infrastructure posed by planned developer contribution rule changes.
Cr Tiley said Mr Barilaro was 'down to earth' and 'good value', and while the meeting focussed on COVID-related issues, the deputy premier also acknowledged council concerns surrounding rule changes to infrastructure contributions that 'threaten to strip councils of their ability to build vital infrastructure communities need to cope with increased development'.
"He did hedge a bit when we asked if the local government elections would go ahead in December," he said. "But let's hope they do go ahead in 79 days - not that I'm counting."
Some councils expressed concern, Cr Tiley said, regarding the ability of the health system to cope with an increase of COVID cases.
Cr O'Brien said she spoke to several community groups before the meeting to understand the critical issues, and health and housing stood out.
"A lot of the main issues for our region were the same as other regions," she said.
"One was the increase in people moving to the regions, and there was concern from other councils in regards to the pressure on housing availability as well as social housing. Rents are going up here; there are fewer listings, and landlords are increasing rents in anticipation of more people moving to Armidale."
Cr O'Brien said the deputy premier told them there would be an upper house inquiry into the delivery of services in the regions.
"Mr Barilaro said the pandemic had uncovered a lot of the gaps in services - and I think that was big of him to admit that," she said.
"It has shone a light on our need to look at services in the region - particularly in the areas of health and housing.
"I think the gap has always been there, but when an emergency happens, that's when we will see how fragile the system is.
"The crisis is in rural areas because if we have any kind of outbreak of COVID-19, our medical services will not have the capacity to deal with it."
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