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The environment minister has told a Stormont committee that local government reform is now in the "twilight zone", on 19 April 2012.
Alex Attwood told the environment committee there was now a movement from a period of uncertainty into a time when people would have to address the issues of the scale of local government organisation.
The major change programme aims to modernise local government and implement the decisions flowing from the Review of Public Administration (RPA).
RPA was launched in 2002 and one of its proposed changes is to cut the number of local councils from 26 to 11.
The minister said the reform process would by paid for through loans, the sale of assets and the local government-led ICE (Improvement, Collaboration & Efficiency) Programme.
Mr Attwood and department officials also briefed MLAs on a planning application for a biomass-fuelled power plant at Glenavy in County Antrim.
The minister's predecessor, Edwin Poots, approved plans for a chicken litter incinerator which it is claimed will power 25,000 homes by burning chicken waste and bone meal.
The planning application has not yet been approved, and residents have raised petitions and visited Stormont as part of their campaign against it.
Mr Attwood said he would be "interrogating" the application and would be personally inspecting the site.
Responding to the minister's claims that he hoped to make a decision before June 2012, the DUP's Lord Morrow said it was "disappointing that we have not appeared to have moved one iota".
Committee members also discussed the Marine Bill which contains provisions for marine planning and nature conservation within Northern Ireland's territorial waters.
Committee chair Anna Lo raised concerns over how responsibilities would be coordinated as the bill was to be spread over six departments.
The SDLP's John Dallat said he felt members were being asked to embrace "an act of faith" and claimed the bill was not robust enough to deliver what it was supposed to.
"This bill in its present form strikes me as the type of legislation that would turn Alcatraz into an open prison as there are so many get out clauses," he said.
The DUP's Peter Weir also said he felt the bill seemed "weak", whereas Sinn Fein's Cathal Boylan said he was concerned with the absence of a Marine Management Organisation (MMO).