Executive accused of 'control freakery' over regeneration powers
The Stormont Executive has been accused of "control freakery" after it was announced regeneration powers would not be devolved to councils.
Communities Minister Paul Givan faced a barrage of criticism from political opponents as he outlined the reasons for his department retaining the regeneration functions.
He told Assembly members: "This is not the time to tinker with who is responsible for what, or to concern ourselves with the splitting up of the regeneration budget.
"Rather it is the time for all the stakeholders to work together to maximise our joint effect and achieve positive change in the issues that have bedevilled this society for too long."
Among the fiercest critics was Alliance Party leader Naomi Long.
She said on Twitter: " H ugely disappointed that Min for Communities won't devolve regeneration powers to Councils. More control freakery fm Executive."
The party's former employment minister Stephen Farry described the move as a "kick in the teeth" for local government.
There was also a stinging attack from the SDLP's Alex Attwood, who said the move had "r un a coach and horses through local government reorganisation".
"The deal with local councils has been openly and callously breached," he added.
Green Party MLA Claire Bailey described the move as "very disappointing news".
Meanwhile, the minister also announced a review of the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, which has tackled deprivation since 2003.
Mr Givan said: "The current Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy has provided many good news stories across all of the areas that have participated in the programme. But we have to recognise that things have moved on.
"There is a different context now, with the Programme for Government placing responsibilities on us to focus our efforts on things that make a difference and make a positive impact on the outcomes it sets out to achieve.
"I wish to announce today that it is my intention to review the current strategies for tackling deprivation. It is in all our interests to see if we can design a programme which will have a greater impact on the intractable social and economic barriers which limit life chances for so many in our community.
"I give my assurance that there will be no sudden change to the delivery of the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme. This will remain in place until the review is complete."
The process is likely to take 18 months - two years to complete and the development of proposals will be informed by widespread consultation.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood cautioned that any new scheme could not become another Social Investment Fund (SIF) - which has been heavily criticised in recent weeks.
He said: "With the decision not to devolve further powers to local councils, the centralisation of regeneration initiatives raised further concerns.
"The successor programme to Neighbourhood Renewal cannot become SIF mark two. It must find its basis in demonstrable, objective need and it must be completely transparent.
"The acid test of the Executive's shambolic handling of the SIF controversy will be the lessons it learns and how it approaches future projects.
"We have already found this to be the most secretive government since the Good Friday Agreement. Its obsession with holding power close to the centre and refusing to share information is apparent for everyone to see."