Reform of local government in Northern Ireland

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Reform of local government in Northern Ireland sees the replacement of the twenty-six districts created in 1973 with a smaller number of "super districts". The review process began in 2002, with proposals for either seven or eleven districts made before it was suspended in 2010. On 12 March 2012, the Northern Ireland Executive published its programme for government, which included a commitment to reduce the number of councils in Northern Ireland to 11.[1] The first elections to these new councils were on 22 May 2014.[2]

Background[edit]

Compared to unitary authorities in England, the current Northern Ireland districts have small populations, with an average population of about 65,000. In June 2002 the Northern Ireland Executive established a Review of Public Administration to review the arrangements for the accountability, development, administration and delivery of public services. Among its recommendations were a reduction in the number of districts.[3]

First scheme: seven districts[edit]

On 22 November 2005 Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced proposals to reduce the number of councils to seven.[4]

The new authorities were to have a number of new powers in such areas as planning, local roads functions, regeneration, and fostering community relations, which were to be transferred from the existing joint boards and other bodies, that are much closer in size to the proposed local authorities. Legislation was to be introduced to prevent serving councillors also being Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (the so-called dual mandate that was also recently abolished in the Republic).

Initial reaction from Northern Ireland's political parties, except for Sinn Féin, was hostile, emphasising the reduction in local representation and frequently expressing a fear that the province would be carved up on sectarian lines. Three councils would have had substantial Protestant majorities, while three would have had Catholic majorities, with Belfast very nearly equally balanced. Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, criticised the proposals as too severe.[5]

The Local Government (Boundaries) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006[6] was made on 9 May 2006 providing for the appointment of a Local Government Boundaries Commissioner to recommend the boundaries and names of the seven districts and the to divide the districts into wards. Dick Mackenzie was appointed as Commissioner on 1 July 2006.[7][8]

The commissioner announced his provisional recommendations on 7 November 2006:[9]

Name Area Map of 7 proposed districts
1. Belfast as present, plus Belvoir, Braniel, Castlereagh (not the borough), Cregagh, Gilnahirk, Glencregagh, Merok, Tullycarnet and Wynchurch (all from Castlereagh) and Colin Glen, Dunmurry, Kilwee, Lagmore, Poleglass and Twinbrook (all from Lisburn) NorthernIrelandNumberedProposed2005.png
2. North East Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine (apart from Benone Strand), Larne (minus Whitehead Golf Club) and Moyle
3. Inner East Antrim, Carrickfergus, Lisburn (apart from Colin Glen, Dunmurry, Kilwee, Lagmore, Poleglass and Twinbrook) and Newtownabbey plus the rest of Whitehead Golf Club
4. East Down, Ards, Castlereagh (apart from Belvoir, Braniel, Castlereagh, Cregagh, Gilnahirk, Glencregagh, Merok, Tullycarnet and Wynchurch), North Down
5. South Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon, Newry and Mourne
6. North West Derry, Limavady, Magherafelt, Strabane plus the rest of Benone Strand.
7. West Cookstown, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Fermanagh, Omagh

An eight-week public consultation period on the proposals, during which members of the public could make written submissions, ended on 5 January 2007. Public hearings conducted by assistant commissioners were held in January and February 2007. The assistant commissioners issued reports on the results of the hearings, and the commissioner published revised recommendations on 30 March 2007.[10] There were only minor changes to the original scheme. The most controversial aspects of the proposed reform were the names of the new districts.

Second scheme: eleven districts[edit]

In June 2007, following the restoration of a power-sharing Executive, it became clear that the plan to create seven "super-councils" was to be reviewed, if not abandoned.[11] In July, Arlene Foster, Minister for the Environment in the Executive, announced a review. A committee was established to report by the end of 2007.[12][13]

On 13 March 2008 the Executive agreed on proposals brought forward by Environment Minister Arlene Foster to create 11 new councils instead of the original 7. The 2 UUP ministers voted against the proposals as their party favoured 15 councils, however the proposals passed by 7 votes to 2.[14][15] The areas of the eleven proposed councils were to consist of combinations of existing districts as follows:[16]

Name Population Area Map of the 11 proposed districts
1. Belfast City 333,871 Belfast City Council plus parts of Castlereagh, Lisburn and North Down NorthernIrelandNumberedproposed.png
2. North Down and Ards District 156,672 Ards and North Down, except for a small part of the Knocknagoney area of North Down District which was to be transferred to Belfast
3. Antrim and Newtownabbey District 138,567 Antrim and Newtownabbey
4. Lisburn City and Castlereagh District 134,841 Lisburn and Castlereagh, though with the transfer of "the localities of Gilnahirk, Tullycarnet, Braniel, Castlereagh, Merok, Cregagh, Wynchurch, Glencregagh and Belvoir, Collin Glen, Poleglass, Lagmore, Twinbrook, Kilwee and Dunmurry" to Belfast
5. Newry City, Mourne and Down District 171,533 Newry and Mourne and Down together with half of Slieve Croob
6. Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon District 199,693 Armagh City and District, Banbridge and Craigavon, though with the loss of half of Slieve Croob to Newry City and Down District
7. Mid and East Antrim District 135,338 Ballymena, Larne, and Carrickfergus
8. Causeway Coast and Glens District 140,877 Ballymoney, Coleraine, Limavady and Moyle
9. Mid-Ulster District 138,590 Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon and South Tyrone
10. Derry City and Strabane District 147,720 Derry and Strabane.
11. Fermanagh and Omagh District 113,161 Fermanagh and Omagh

On 25 April 2008, Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that the scheduled 2009 district council elections were to be postponed until the introduction of the eleven new councils in 2011.[17]

The names of the new districts were announced on 17 September 2008 with revised names recommended on 27 February 2009.[18]

A legal framework for the creation of the 11 new District Councils was put into place with the passing of the Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 2008[19] by the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2008. This act also repeals the Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 which established the current 26 districts.

Suspension[edit]

In May 2010 it emerged that the process of bringing the new authorities into existence was likely to be delayed, due to the failure of members of the Northern Ireland Executive to agree on boundaries for district electoral areas. The main issue was the inclusion of Dunmurry within the city boundaries of Belfast rather than Lisburn City and Castlereagh. Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, opposed the extension of Belfast, while Sinn Féin members of the executive favoured it. The Northern Ireland Office made it clear that unless the dispute was speedily resolved, elections due in May 2011 would be to the existing 26 district councils.[20] A decision to delay changes until 2015 was expected to be announced on 13 May 2010, but was postponed, reportedly due to disagreements between Poots and Sammy Wilson, the Executive's Minister of Finance and Personnel.[21]

On 15 June 2010 the proposed reforms were abandoned following the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive to obtain cross community support. Ministers from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Sinn Féin and Alliance Party voted in favour of the reforms, Democratic Unionist Party ministers voted against and Ulster Unionist Party ministers abstained. Accordingly, elections to the existing 26 councils took place in 2011.[22] The president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association noted that "Local Government Reform will not take place at all, with no notification that it is simply put off to 2015 which was one of the options the Minister was to put forward to the Executive", and angrily denounced the decision as "clearly not acceptable on any level".[23]

Programme for Government 2011–2015[edit]

After the 2011 elections, the new executive drew up a programme for government for the assembly's four-year term, which was published on 12 March 2012.[24] Under "Priority 5: Delivering High Quality and Efficient Public Services", one commitment was "Establish the new 11 council model for Local Government by 2015", under the responsibility of the Department of the Environment.[1] The milestones laid down for this are:[1]

2012/13
Progress legislation (to include Local Government Reorganisation Act) and a programme structure necessary to manage change
2013/14
Arrangements in place for the shadow Councils. Deliver Year 2 of implementation programme
2014/15
Arrangements in place for the transfer of powers to councils

A draft Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012 was published, specifying eleven districts with names and boundaries similar to the previous proposal.[25] On 12 June 2012, the Northern Ireland Assembly approved the draft Order by 59 votes to 26; the DUP, Sinn Féin, and the Alliance Party voted for, while the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP voted against.[26] The Order (2012 No. 421) was made on 30 November 2012.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Priority 5: Delivering High Quality and Efficient Public Services; Key Commitments". Programme for Government 2011–15. Belfast: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. 12 March 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "Review of Public Administration". Northern Ireland Executive. Retrieved 8 July 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Major reform of local government". BBC News. 22 November 2005. 
  5. ^ "NI councils overhaul 'too sharp'". BBC News. 26 November 2005. 
  6. ^ The Local Government (Boundaries) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, S.I. 2006/1253 (N.I. 8) [2]
  7. ^ Local Government Timeline (Review of Public Administration Implementation)[3]
  8. ^ 2006 Review of local government boundaries in Northern Ireland : Procedure Guide (Local Government Boundaries Commissioner for Northern Ireland)[4]
  9. ^ "Provisional Recommendations". Local Government Boundaries Commissioner. 7 November 2006. Archived from the original on 20 July 2007. 
  10. ^ "Revised Recommendations". Local Government Boundaries Commissioner. 30 March 2007. Archived from the original on 20 July 2007. 
  11. ^ Councils will not be tied by the Boundary Commission , Belfast Telegraph, 12 June 2007
  12. ^ "Rethink of super-council shake-up". BBC News. 4 July 2007. 
  13. ^ Review of local government begins (4NI.co.uk)
  14. ^ "NI councils reduced from 26 to 11". BBC News. 13 March 2008. 
  15. ^ Foster announces the future shape of local government, NI Executive
  16. ^ [not in citation given]"The Review of Public Administration in Northern Ireland, Further Consultation" (PDF). NI Executive. 2005. p. 43, Fig.3, Option 11B. Archived from the original on 2009. 
  17. ^ "NI local elections are postponed". BBC News. 25 April 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  18. ^ http://www.lgbc-ni.org/press_release_-_revised_recommendations_-_feb_v2.pdf
  19. ^ http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/northernireland/acts/acts2008/nia_20080007_en_1
  20. ^ "Plan to cut Northern Ireland councils may be delayed until 2015". Belfast Telegraph. 7 May 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  21. ^ "Pressure on Poots over changeover". Belfast Newsletter. 15 May 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  22. ^ "The executive fails to agree a deal on council reform". BBC News. 15 June 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  23. ^ "Local Government Association Incensed as Minister Stops the Reform Process". Northern Ireland Local Government Association. 15 June 2010. Retrieved 8 July 2010. 
  24. ^ "Programme for Government". Northern Ireland Executive. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  25. ^ "Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012". UK Statute Law Database. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  26. ^ "Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012 (continued)". Hansard. Northern Ireland Assembly. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  27. ^ "Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012". legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. Retrieved 4 January 2013.