Belfast Telegraph

Local government

Yet another round of public consultation has just concluded - this time on the future of local government.

But the general public can be forgiven for not knowing a thing about it. When - or even whether - the reform of the province's councils comes back onto the public agenda is anyone's guess.

And how soon it becomes a live issue again probably depends on which political party opts for the relevant ministry next time around.

But the controversy is not likely to surface this side of the return of the current 26 local authorities - on the same day as the Assembly poll in May.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The plan to reduce the 26 into 11 new authorities, to be up-and-running in time for this year's election, finally foundered last summer when the Stormont Executive dumped the plan amid recriminations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

A number of overlapping factors resulted in last June's collapse, but one key issue was a Boundary Commission recommendation that Dunmurry should move from the Lisburn to the new Belfast authority.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots - himself at that time a Lisburn councillor - stressed that some 60,000 residents of Dunmurry wanted to remain part of Lisburn, rather than Belfast.

Sinn Fein argued that it was unprecedented for a minister to unilaterally seek to change the proposals of the Boundary Commission.

But at a meeting last November, the Executive agreed to issue a document containing a number of policy proposals for consultation.

The aim was to prepare the planning system and local councils culturally and organisationally for the transfer of powers.

A system of checks and balances is also outlined to help ensure openness, transparency and equality.

When Executive decisions have finally been made about the timetable for local government reorganisation, Mr Poots' department - or whoever follows him - will bring forward legislation to the Assembly to give effect to the Boundary Commissioner's recommendation, with or without modification.

This legislation will specify the boundaries of the new local government districts and wards. Legislation will then be required to abolish the current local government districts, dissolve the current district councils and establish a council for each of the new local government district areas.

NOEL McADAM

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph