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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Councils shake-up planned
City Hall in Belfast
Belfast council is unlikely to be affected by changes
The number of local councils in Northern Ireland is likely to be cut from 26 to seven under proposals to shake up local government.

The latest thinking also points to seven new health boards and just one super education board - the Single Northern Ireland Schools Authority - the BBC learned on Tuesday.

NI minister Ian Pearson is expected to brief the political parties this week on the latest thinking.

The shake-up will mean more powers for councils, but fewer councillors. The number of councillors could be cut from about 580 to just 350.

This would mean each council would have 50 members.

Local Government minister Ian Pearson
Ian Pearson is proposing a reduction in the number of councils

BBC NI's political correspondent Martina Purdy said: "Although seven has emerged as the magic number, it is merely the front runner at this stage.

"Firm proposals will go to the minister from the review team in November, when there will be another period of consultation."

The changes will also have implications for the number of District Policing Partnerships, which may also drop from 26 to seven.

Council boundaries would take in about 250,000 people, but a boundary commission would have to decide the geography.

Councils would have a greater say in areas such as regeneration.

The model is based on the assumption of devolution and it is not certain that it could proceed if the political deadlock remains.

However, the SDLP has said it opposes the plan.

The party's Tommy Gallagher said reform should not be about size "but about fairness and equality, accountability and service delivery".

Mayor of Limavady Ulster Unionist Jack Rankin said his party would also fight such a move.

Limavady Borough Council is one of those likely to be merged, possibly with Derry City Council.

BBC NI's Martina Purdy reports
"The recommendations include seven super councils with around 50 councillors each"

NI councils shake-up considered
19 Jul 04  |  Northern Ireland
Health bodies 'face shake-up'
05 May 04  |  Northern Ireland
Red tape spending 'clamp down'
13 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland

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