Belfast has matured says new mayor
The mayor of Belfast's new-look council has expressed hope that the restructuring will provide a chance to move on from the acrimony created by the flag issue.
In his first day in office, Sinn Fein's Arder Carson said he was confident the super-council would usher in a "new era and new politics".
Relations in the old Belfast City Council deteriorated markedly two years ago amid fierce unionist opposition to the Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance-backed majority decision to limit the flying of the Union flag over City Hall.
Mr Carson, who was formerly a councillor in an area of Lisburn that has now been absorbed into the Belfast super-council, said politics in Belfast had already shown signs of "maturing" since 2012/13 and said further progress could now be made.
Asked if the new council offered the opportunity for a clean slate, the mayor said:
"I am very positive about it, I think we have matured as a city even over the last two years and the new council gives us new opportunities because we have new communities joining us."
He highlighted that around 53,000 additional residents, in excess of 20,000 households and 1,000 business premises were joining the council area.
"So it's a new city, it's a new era, it's new politics and it's a new council," he said. "And I am very positive about the opportunities that exist for us in the years ahead."
Mr Carson's first engagement was to mark the official handover of planning powers from Stormont's Department of the Environment to a new council-run planning service.
The transfer of planning functions from central government was one of the key planks of local government reform across Northern Ireland as the 11 super-councils today replaced the old 26 council model.
The mayor said the move provided "immense opportunities" for Belfast as he met staff at the new Belfast Planning Service base in Linenhall Street in the city centre.
"It's going to be one of the key powers that have transferred to council and I think the challenge is really up to Belfast City Council to make it an effective, efficient service," said Mr Carson.
"I think it's fitting I am here today, my first day, and it's the first day for all the new planning staff in Belfast city who have transferred over from the Department of the Environment."
He added: "I think we will be more responsive to local needs, this is now Belfast Planning Service and we will be responding to the requests and applications from people in Belfast city - so it's closer to them as a service, it's more accessible to them as a service and we think we will be more effective in delivering that service."