WITH Local Government Reform due before the Assembly shortly, I would urge all parties to abandon the current 11-council model as it is nothing short of a complete shambles.
Local identity is important to communities, therefore the logical, non-contentious way forward is to base any new councils around our county towns and the current Westminster and Assembly boundaries.
Failure to do so will create confusion.
However, the 11-council model has the potential to destroy the status of our county towns.
Antrim, Downpatrick, Armagh, Omagh and Enniskillen are all at risk of losing their base of local government.
The councils with whom they are merging will have more councillors who will vote to have the new HQs in their own areas.
The proposed new boundaries have no correlation with the parliamentary constituencies.
Towns such as Saintfield and Ballynahinch will be uprooted from their hinterlands to Newry, where they have no allegiance, thus isolating people from local government.
The same can be said about Newtownstewart and Strabane, which are Omagh’s natural hinterlands, yet they are shipped off to Londonderry.
These proposals do not take into account local community identities, nor will they help build sustainable communities. Counties are being carved up and their identities eroded. Enniskillen is not Co Tyrone, Omagh is not Co Fermanagh, nor Strabane Co Londonderry.
David Gavaghan, chief executive of Titanic Quarter, stated that Belfast needs to double its population to become an economic powerhouse.
The current 26 councils and the original 15-council model drawn up for LGR gives Belfast a natural commuter belt and a metropolis known as Greater Belfast.
The 11-council model will destroy any possibility of Belfast doubling its population, as greater Belfast will be carved up to rural areas.
The transition cost of the mergers is estimated to be around £118 million.
Chief executives and councillors will receive redundancy packages and new HQs will need to be built.
Rate convergence and cost of transfer of functions will add many millions to this total, sending rates bills soaring as central government is not making any funds available for these costs.
Let common sense prevail. Leave the councils alone, or go back to the original 15-council model.