New 'super-councils' unveiled

The boundaries and names of the seven new local government districts in the North will be unveiled today.

The boundaries and names of the seven new local government districts in the North will be unveiled today.

Local Government Boundaries Commissioner Dick Mackenzie will reveal plans for the seven council areas which will replace the 26 currently operating in the province.

A year ago Northern Secretary Peter Hain announced plans to slash the number of councils in 2009 under the Government’s Review of Public Administration.

Under his plan, the seven new super-councils – three in the west, three in the east, and a council in Belfast – will have a maximum of 50 councillors each.

The dual mandate allowing people to serve as Stormont Assembly members and councillors would also be removed, affecting 69 of the current crop of 108 MLAs.

Key decisions would also be taken on a cross-community basis and in future councils would assume responsibility for planning and local roads.

While Belfast council would remain intact, the review envisaged a new croissant-shaped council around the city incorporating Lisburn, Antrim, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus council areas.

In the south-east, North Down, Castlereagh, Down and Ards would come together as one council. In the south Craigavon, Banbridge, Newry and Mourne and Armagh councils would form another.

Dungannon, Cookstown, Omagh and Fermanagh would amalgamate in the south-west. Derry, Strabane, Limavady and Magherafelt would become a council in the north-west.

Coleraine, Moyle, Ballymoney, Ballymena and Larne would join together in the north-east.

Sinn Féin was the only party to welcome the seven council plan, with Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists, the Ulster Unionists, nationalist SDLP and cross community Alliance Party favouring between 11 and 15.

Ahead of today’s announcement, Sinn Féin vice president Pat Doherty urged the Boundary Commission to ensure the redrawn council boundaries did not result in gerrymandering in favour of one community.

“No-one should forget that the reason local government was stripped of much of its power was because of serious abuse of power by unionist politicians – a practice that continues today in many unionist dominated councils,” the West Tyrone MP said.

“The problem of gerrymandering was widespread. Sinn Féin will be working closely with the new commissioner to ensure that any attempt at gerrymandering is resisted.”

SDLP local government spokesperson Tommy Gallagher said the public would reject the seven-council plan when they looked at the boundaries.

He also claims the seven councils would be dominated by nationalists or unionists in a sectarian carve-up.

“It is illogical to talk about building a shared future at Assembly level while our new councils would be based on nothing more than a crude sectarian carve-up,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly member argued.

“It is also illogical to spend good money on a report which is almost certain to be thrown out.

“Either the whole work on council boundaries should be put back until after the return of the Assembly or the commission should also consult on other options for between 11 and 15 councils which are favoured by a majority of public representatives – virtually all of them if the truth be told.

“The sensible thing to do is to set this entire matter aside until the new (Northern power sharing) executive is in place.”

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