Alex Attwood begs for £2.5m to fund council shake-up
The Stormont Executive is being asked to make a U-turn over the massive shake-up of councils, which are being cut from 26 to 11.
Cash-strapped ministers had decided against providing any central funding for the long-delayed revamp, insisting the new amalgamated councils could finance the transition themselves.
But Environment Minister Alex Attwood, who is responsible for local government, is urging his colleagues to reconsider and contribute £2.5m.
He also confirmed that a bid for £2.3m in the last spending monitoring round has already been rejected. The cash is needed to finance up-front and convergence costs, including pay-offs for chief executives and senior officials, and to help fund the work of local committees overseeing the changes in each area.
In a letter seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Attwood said: “I am disappointed and have advised the Finance Minister (Sammy Wilson) that I will quickly return to this issue, escalate my bid and seek central support in the period up to 2015.’’
The SDLP minister said other means including loans, the sale of surplus assets and use of reserves must also be considered.
Despite the Executive’s final decision on 11 councils, he again expressed his personal preference for a plan to reduce the current 26 local authorities to 15.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the 11 new ‘super-councils’ will have control over planning decisions in Northern Ireland’s two new national parks.
Mr Attwood is choosing two from a shortlist of three — the Mournes, the Causeway Coast and Glens and the Fermanagh Lakelands — and hopes to have legislation in place by 2015.
He conceded some farmers are hostile to the plan, but said he believed a model suited to Northern Ireland would be developed.
The 11 new councils planned will be comprised of: Antrim and Newtownabbey; Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon; Belfast; Causeway Coast and Glens; Derry and Strabane; Fermanagh and Omagh; Lisburn and Castlereagh; Mid and East Antrim; Mid Ulster; Newry and Mourne, North Down and Ards.