Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Councils plan 'illustrates chaos'

Proposed council boundaries
There are plans to amalgamate the 26 councils into 11 bigger areas

Environment minister Edwin Poots has been urged to resolve the crisis which appears to have hit plans to streamline the number of NI local councils.

In a letter to Executive colleagues, Mr Poots warned that failure to agree on new council boundaries could scupper the whole reform programme.

So far the programme has cost £5.5m.

On Friday, SDLP assembly member, Dolores Kelly, said that paralysis in the Executive seems to have turned into chaos.

Ms Kelly chairs the Assembly's environment and local government committee.

She said: "We have a number of officers at local council level, all sorts of employees wondering what their future is.

Ms Kelly said that "nobody knows what is going on now".

"We certainly know that November was the deadline for the minister in trying to ensure that this legislation would be in place for the elections to be held in 2011 for the new councils."

Mr Poots warned that plans to streamline Northern Ireland's 26 local councils could be on the verge of collapse, leading to elections next year.

Letter

In a leaked letter obtained by the BBC, Mr Poots warned his Executive colleagues that time is running out to reach agreement.

Last March, the Executive agreed to cut the 26 locals councils to 11 in a move seen as proof that the DUP and Sinn Fein could cut a deal on a big issue.

Edwin Poots
Mr Poots has sent a letter of warning to his Executive colleagues

Mr Poots's department is overseeing the shake-up, but in the letter he warned that failure to agree new council boundaries could mean he may not get the necessary legislation through by the end of this year.

He predicted this could lead to the collapse of the whole local government reform programme which was meant to save the Executive more than £400m over the next 25 years.

It is understood the sticking point relates to council wards along the boundary of Lisburn and Belfast.

In his letter, Mr Poots said he had a "strong sense" that the Northern Ireland Office would call local elections next year if he could not provide the Secretary of State with an assurance that the Executive would bring forward legislation to implement the new local government boundaries by the end of 2009.

He said the timetable for the proposed legislation was "already challenging" and stressed that agreement needed to be reached by the next meeting of the Executive.



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