Belfast Telegraph

City survey plan waste of ratepayer cash: claim

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's biggest new council is set to take a major spending decision – months before it takes up the reins of power.

The potential move has already come under fire from self-appointed watchdog the TaxPayers' Alliance.

Belfast's new super council intends going back to the people – just over a month after it was elected.

The new, enlarged local authority is to carry out the largest ever survey of residents on how they see the future of the capital city.

Andy Silvester, campaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said last night: "It doesn't take a genius to work out what local residents want from their council.

"They want essential services and a council that delivers both growth and value for money. Sending out a survey to find out that taxpayers want good quality services seems rather unnecessary."

The plan is likely to be agreed at the latest meeting of the new 'shadow' council today.

A proposal from one of its committees is for experts to be appointed to draw up a shared vision, including long-term social, environmental and economic objectives "...a large-scale resident survey will be conducted in order that the views of residents from across the new city boundary are represented," according to minutes of the transformation committee.

The new council also envisages holding an initial stakeholder event in the autumn in the run-up to it replacing the current council from April of next year.

No one from the new council – which only held its first meeting last month – was available for comment last night.

The report added: "In Belfast we want to take an engaged, pragmatic approach that reflects the real-life demands, opportunities and characteristics of the city and which is driven by hard evidence.

"The emphasis will be on pragmatism and our capacity to deliver realistic projects and actions."

The Belfast Telegraph last month revealed the 60 councillors tasked with taking the city into the future on the new council are being offered a bus tour to explore parts of the city unfamiliar to them – but the plan has stalled as they can't agree an itinerary.

While the representatives may know the areas they were elected in, many are less than familiar with the wider city.

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir, from west Belfast, had never been in east Belfast before he served as Lord Mayor last year.

He said while he had driven through it, he had never been in it "diagonally", on the ground meeting people.

This was rectified earlier this year when former Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson of the DUP took Mr O Muilleoir on a bike ride along the Comber Greenway.

Likewise, Mr Robinson said there were places, such as Casement Park in the west, that he had not visited before his year as first citizen.

Some of the newer councillors are also not familiar with the whole city.

Two unionists said they had never set foot on the Falls Road in their lives.

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