Belfast Telegraph

Councillors 'nervous' of taking up powers, says minister Durkan

By Rebecca Black

Exploratory fracking works, windfarms and even airports are set to be among the initiatives that our new councils can approve.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan admitted in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph that the new councillors were expressing nervousness.

This week legislation is being brought through the Assembly to transform Tom Frawley's role from Northern Ireland Commissioner to Public Service Ombudsman.

He will police the conduct of the new councillors.

Around 400 staff from the Planning Service have transferred over to work for the new councils.

Councils will also be responsible for the enforcement of planning decisions.

Councillors have been undergoing training for their new powers and will sign up to a new code of conduct on planning.

The Department of Environment will continue to formulate planning policy, but the new councils will take the planning decisions.

The councils will also assume responsibility for off-street parking, local economic development, local tourism, the authority to spot list buildings, authority to draw up local lists of buildings that are of architectural or historic interest, local water recreational facilities and local sports.

In addition Laganside will become the responsibility of Belfast City Council, Armagh County Museum will become the responsibility of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council and Donaghadee Harbour will become the responsibility of Ards and North Down Council.

Mr Durkan previously served as a councillor in Derry.

He said he felt many of his former colleagues felt trepidation about the new powers.

"I remember as a councillor not too long ago, sitting in planning committee meetings, and sometimes planners would come in with a recommendation that some other members of the council may not have agreed with. I remember those members rubbing their hands and saying, wait until you get planning," he said.

"But now we are on the cusp of transferring planning over to the councils, I see the same people not quite so excited about it.

"Across local government there has been the realisation that with the power comes a tremendous responsibility. That is natural and understandable that there would be a degree of trepidation of nervousness among those charged with taking on these responsibilities."

However, Mr Durkan said the new councillors had undergone training programmes since last May.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph