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Council reshuffle branded 'a shambles'

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 21, 2010 12:30 pm    Post subject: Council reshuffle branded 'a shambles' Reply with quote

The present position on the re-organisation of local government as part of the Review of Public Administration (RPA) has been described as 'a complete and utter shambles' by an Ards Councillor, following revelations last week that plans to streamline the system have collapsed.

It is believed there are issues with boundaries for the new councils and that the two main parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have been unable to reach an agreement.

A spokesperson said this week that local government minister, Edwin Poots, has held constructive discussions with party representatives about local government reform, and recently put a paper to the Executive with options on a common way forward to deliver the reform timetable.

"The principal objective for Minister Poots is to make sure that a model for delivering the future efficiency savings in local government is produced which is fit for purpose and will deliver real savings to ratepayers," she remarked.

Under RPA, Ards and North Down Borough Councils were due to amalgamate into one body in May next year, when the number of Northern Ireland councils would shrink from 26 to 11.

Since local government was previously re-organised in 1972, there have been elections to Ards Borough Council every four years. The last time Ards voters elected their Council was on May 5, 2005, and the Council period was extended until May 2011 to allow for RPA to set in then. It is now unclear whether a local government election will take place next year, or whether the life of the present Council will be extended for a second time.

Ards Borough Councillor Tom Hamilton has described the situation as 'a complete and utter shambles'.

"At the moment, it would appear that they are going to hold elections to the existing 26 councils next year," Mr Hamilton remarked. "The question is, what will happen after that?

"It will be a waste of money if they hold elections next year, and the year after that the boundaries are sorted out, and they then hold another set of elections," he continued.

"The whole thing is an Assembly created mess. 9 million has been spent on this, and they still can't reach a decision."

Under RPA, certain powers, including aspects of planning, rural development, the public realm aspects of local roads functions, urban regeneration and community development, a range of housing related functions, local economic development and tourism were due to be transferred to the new, larger council.

Mr Hamilton, who chairs the Council's External Affairs and Planning Committee, would welcome additional powers coming to councils, even if the 23 member strong Ards Borough Council remains.

"Most people who have planning issues turn to councillors for assistance, but the reality is that, at the moment, councils have very little say in planning matters," he pointed out.

"We are merely consulted by the planners, but the planners are not duty bound to abide by or undertake anything the Council might suggest.

"I would welcome the devolvement of power for planning, so that local councillors would have to make decisions on these matters," Mr Hamilton continued. "It would remove the escape clause that councillors have at the moment, not just in Ards Borough, but in other councils. I have come across councillors who have raised expectations about planning matters, and because they haven't the power to deliver, turn round and say the decision was not ours."

Read the full report in this week's Chronicle.

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