Seen by some as a lost opportunity but welcomed by others, the proposed voluntary amalgamation of the Shires of Cunderdin, Quairading, Tammin and York has been rejected by the Local Government Advisory Board.

It was the first attempt at amalgamation under the state government's push for structural reform and followed a long period of co-operation and resource sharing by the shires under the South East Avon Voluntary Regional Organization of Council (SEAVROC)  and more recently the South East Avon Regional Transition Group.

The LGAB said in its report that the decision to terminate the proposed merger of four WA Wheatbelt shires was partly due to financial concerns, a lack of common goals and community reaction. The report noted concerns about sustainability and whether the councils were adequately prepared to drive change. It showed 83% of residents who made official submissions opposed the merger.

Concern had been expressed about issues relating to the operation of the Shire of York and the negative impact on community support for the proposal. However, the board found the Regional Business Plan to be a comprehensive and detailed plan to facilitate a considered and staged amalgamation of the four shires.

The supporting documents were also valuable tools to facilitate implementation of the proposal. The plan established a positive case for the proposal but acknowledged that there would be challenges in amalgamation of the four shires. "On balance, the board does not believe that the current circumstances within the four local governments would facilitate an effective transition to a new local government entity," the report said.

Speaking on ABC radio, Cunderdin Shire president, Rod Carter, said he was disappointed by the board's findings. "The board did not have a proper understanding of the issues. "You have to live in these communities to understand how it works. "They're small communities, they're self-sufficient in their own right. "Our regional transition group has requested a meeting with the advisory board and I hope that'll give us the opportunity to discuss some of their findings," he said.

Some of those involved in the planning for amalgamation believe the withdrawal of the Shire of Beverley affected the chance of a merger. This was because of a reduction in the potential population of the new council and its failure to reach the critical mass considered viable by the state government.

There were also doubts that the proposal would succeed if it was put to a referendum. Under rules set down by the state government, communities could request a vote on proposed amalgamations, an option that has been removed from future proposals.

A lingering concern is that rejection of the SEARTG proposal might mean the shires will in the long run, be forced to join a much bigger regional grouping, reducing their input into the future of their communities.

Lindsay McNeill