Local Government Reform is before the Assembly this autumn, with the objective of elections to new Councils some time in 2014.
The whole thing is seriously, seriously flawed.
Firstly, financially, there is the outrageous reality that at least 200 million will be spent to save, er, 200 million… perhaps.
Secondly, politically and even worse, there is the sheer democratic subversion of it all.
There is the outrageous nonsense of “paying off” Councillors – Councillors who have already received an annual allowance for every year they served, by the way (all the while there is doubt over whether local government staff will receive the pensions to which they were always entitled) – in order to subvert the democratic process by “encouraging” (with ratepayers’ money) people with experience (which may actually be useful) not to stand.
Then, of course, there are the new boundaries – an utter shambles. To begin with, there is no reason for 11 Councils when no real powers are being transferred to them – 26 Councils, based around our market towns, was really quite an effective form of local government given the geographic and political realities of Northern Ireland. Then, even if you were to move to 11 Councils, randomly merging the existing Councils makes no sense at all – the result will simply be 2-4 sets of civic centres, 2-4 sets of binmen payment systems, 2-4 different means of waste disposal, just managed centrally by a single set of Councillors (invariably requiring new, expensive Council chambers in order to fit them all in). It’s a nonsense!
It gets worse. The new Councils are being drawn in such a way that the advantage of the existing system – which gives Belfast a natural commuter belt (in Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Lisburn, Castlereagh and North Down) and thus a “Metropolitan Area” – will be lost altogether. With Carrickfergus mixed with predominantly rural Larne, Newtownabbey with predominantly rural Antrim, and North Down with the rural Ards Peninsula, Belfast loses its natural hinterland and is condemned to the status of an average provincial city (think Stoke, not Liverpool; Augsburg, not Frankfurt).
Worst of all, there is an incredibly obvious way to draw 11 Councils, if you really must…
AC: Antrim, Newtownabbey and that part of Lisburn City Council’s rural area in County Antrim could be combined into Antrim-Clandeboye Council (the baronies of Toome Upper, Antrim, Masserene, inner Belfast Lower) population around 194,000.
AG: Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Larne, Moyle and that part of Coleraine in County Antrim could be combined into Antrim-Glens/Route Council (the baronies of Toome Lower, Kilconway, Dunluce, Cary, Glenarm, outer Belfast Lower and Carrickfergus) population around 173,000.
AR: Armagh City and District Council, the large part of Craigavon (in Armagh) and that part of Newry & Mourne in Armagh could simply form Armagh County Council, population around 159,000.
BC: That part of the current Belfast City Council which is in County Down plus the similar part of the Lisburn Urban Area and the current Castlereagh Borough Council plus the Holywood section of North Down could be combined into Belfast-Clandeboye Council (the urban parts of the barony of Castlereagh) population around 195,000 – naturally, this would for most purposes be combined with Belfast-Lagan.
BL: That part of the current Belfast City Council which is in County Antrim plus the similar part of the Lisburn Urban Area could be combined into Belfast-Lagan Council (the barony of Belfast Upper) population around 225,000 – naturally, this would for most purposes be combined with Belfast-Clandeboye (thus 420,000).
CS: Limavady, Magherafelt, a small part of Cookstown (in Londonderry), most of Coleraine (in Londonderry) and a rural part of Derry City Council could be combined into Coleraine-Sperrins Council (the baronies of Keenaght, Loughinsholin, NE Liberties, Coleraine/Firnacreeve and eastern Tyrkeeran) population around 140,500 – see also Foyle.
DC: Ards, the Bangor section of North Down and the northern part of Down District could be combined into Down-Clandeboye Council (the rural part of the barony of Castlereagh including Ards) population around 183,000.
DI: Banbridge, the southern part of Down District, that part of Newry & Mourne which is in County Down and a small section of rural Lisburn and Craigavon (in Down) could be combined into Down-Iveagh Council (the baronies of Iveagh, Kinelarty, Dufferin and Lecale) population around 191,500.
FE: Fermanagh District Council could simply become Fermanagh County Council, population 63,100 – some services may usefully be shared with Tyrone.
FC: Derry City Council could simply become Foyle Council, perhaps with boundaries moved inwards slightly to cover the urban area, population around 93,000 – for some purposes, this would be combined with Coleraine-Sperrins (thus 237,500).
TY: Omagh, Dungannon, Strabane and most of Cookstown (in Tyrone) could simply become Tyrone County Council, population around 166,500 – sharing some services with Fermanagh.
The advantages are obvious:
– a new start for each Council area, not just a “merger” of the “same old”;
– absolute historical and cultural legitimacy;
– avoidance of unwieldy or controversial names; and
– best of all, the clarity of a Belfast-Clandeboye Metropolitan Area (with legitimate historical boundaries based on medieval Clandeboye) with a population of 800,000 – a size worth doing business with!
How many would be “Orange” and “Green”? I really don’t care – and nor should any of us.
Map adapted from Paul at WikiTravel, with thanks.