Belfast Telegraph

Plans for councils prompt inquiries

Nine one-day public inquiries are to be held into a proposed shake-up of local councils in Northern Ireland.

Next month's meetings will allow people to discuss objections to planned boundary adjustments in time for the next election, the commissioner charged with overseeing the reorganisation said. The number of authorities in charge of services like waste collection is to fall to 11 but their elected members will take on increased powers.

District electoral areas commissioner Dick Mackenzie made provisional recommendations, following a Stormont Executive decision to slash the number of councillors by 120, on the make-up and naming of new districts. He is due to report to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers by the end of the year.

Mr Mackenzie said: "The inquiries are a vital part of the process leading to the final shape of the electoral areas which will be used for the election of councillors to the new local government districts."

Local government is taking over extra powers including local regeneration and planning under reforms reducing 26 councils to 11.

A new Titanic electoral area has been proposed. Parts of East Belfast, including the dock where the famous liner was completed, could be renamed.

The greatest proposed changes in council boundaries were made in the Causeway Coast and Glens council area, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, Mid and East Antrim and Mid Ulster. Fermanagh and Omagh are virtually unchanged.

Veteran councillors standing aside are in line for a £35,000 redundancy payout.

Mr Mackenzie used physical features like loughs, rivers and major roads to decide the proposed district electoral area boundaries. The ramifications of the changes for party strengths were not considered nor even known by the commissioner.

Some Belfast electoral areas would be divided by the M1 motorway.

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