'Super councils' postponed for at least five years

THE formation of Northern Ireland's 11 so-called 'super councils' is due to be postponed for at least five years, the News Letter learned last night.

It is reported that Environment Minister Edwin Poots will announce to the NI Executive that the local government elections planned for next year will be to the existing 26 councils, and not to the new 11 bodies as originally envisaged. This would maintain the status quo until at least 2015.

The planned postponement came to light last night when Craigavon Borough Council held a special meeting to discuss staffing issues, but it was postponed until Monday night, pending the anticipated Poots announcement.

Craigavon is due to join with neighbouring Armagh and Banbridge councils, and is currently employing a temporary chief executive and director of leisure services in anticipation of the change-over, but may now have to make permanent appointments.

A council source said: "It was stated at the meeting that the creating of the 11 councils, under the Review of Public Administration (RPA), was being delayed by certain councils disputing the boundaries and it would be better to hold fire until after the Minister's announcement."

And late last night, a DUP Assembly source confirmed that the plan for creating the new councils was so far behind schedule that there was no hope of them being in place before the 2011 deadline.

"Indeed, their very future is in doubt because of boundary disputes, including Lisburn where Mr Poots is a council member," the source added.

Millions of pounds have been spent in preparation for the new set-up, which was mooted at least five years ago, with plans for seven new councils. The number increased to 11 in 2009, but still the controversy rages.

Assembly sources said that the announcement is almost certain to be made this week, maybe even today.