Amalgamation will be at the top of the agenda for Illawarra councils today as mayors from up and down the coast meet to discuss the idea at an urban development conference.
The Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama and Shoalhaven mayors will attend a NSW Urban Development Institute event at the Novotel Northbeach to discuss how they will deal with new developments as the region's population balloons in coming decades.
They will speak to about 100 industry representatives including planners, engineers, contractors and real estate agents, along with major players such as Lend Lease, Stockland and Warrigal Care.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said amalgamation was a hot topic for the conference because investors paid no attention to council boundaries.
"Developers just don't look at one council, they look at us as a region and assess us in terms of the number of people who occupy the space between, for example, Helensburgh and Gerringong," he said.
"Just because we put a little line on the map, they are not going to change their markets, so that's why councils have to work together."
Cr Bradbery said he was more open to the idea of merging than his southern counterparts but Kiama Mayor Brian Petschler and Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba both reaffirmed their strong stance against a forced amalgamation of any kind.
While Cr Bradbery commended existing collaboration between the councils through the Southern Councils Group, he said the region could do better.
"I'm more open to amalgamation but there's not much point in me pushing that position unless I've got other people who are ready and willing to do so," he said.
"I don't think there's an appetite for amalgamation [by other councils] and, if that's the case, I think collaboration is the way to go."
Cr Petschler said his council rejected the idea of a merger because the region's councils already worked together in a number of ways.
"In this area, we think there are much better ways to proceed forward and we have demonstrated that in the whole region," he said.
"We have a very active regional group of councils, which does a number of things collectively. For instance, we have a noxious weeds program for Kiama, Shellharbour and Wollongong and us and Shellharbour share maintenance equipment. There are many other things we could look at in the future, which would allow each council to retain its autonomy and maintain its local character and flavour while still achieving efficiencies and functional benefits."
Cr Saliba agreed, saying she wanted to work closely with neighbouring areas to reduce costs and share services without merging.
"Our cities and local government areas are quite diverse and we need to maintain our autonomy."