‘Superpowers’ debate divides councillors

Ballymena Town Hall. Editorial image.
Ballymena Town Hall. Editorial image.

It was a case of DUP versus ‘the rest’ when Mid and East Antrim Councillors debated the decision not to devolve so-called ‘superpowers’ to ‘supercouncils’.

The chamber split right down the party line at the monthly meeting when it came to a vote calling on Communities Minister, Paul Givan, to re-think his recently announced policy change.

The majority supported the Ulster Unionist motion which lashed the u-turn on ‘regeneration powers’ which were promised to Councils as part of the new local government blueprint.

UUP group leader Stephen Nicholl, who proposed the motion, contended that promises made by former DUP minister Mervyn Storey about giving meaningful local powers to local representatives had been broken.

And his argument found favour with members of every party - except the DUP bloc - who voted against the proposal.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr. Nicholl said the DUP decision to vote against his motion ‘betrayed their councillors’ lack of independent thought’.

He added: “It was gratifying to see Council support for the transfer of regeneration powers to local government. It is clear that local decision making to meet the needs of local communities in a timely manner is best delivered through local government. Waiting around for the Department to come up with a viable scheme introduces delays and limitations which negatively impact on our citizens.

“While the DUP group voted en bloc to reject the transfer of such powers it was obvious that this was a directive from the party leadership.

“It is clear from their private positions that a significant number see the potential to greatly advance sustainable development locally. There is a genuine hope that common sense will prevail in the interests of our local communities.”

Larne Ulster Unionist Cllr Andy Wilson, who seconded the motion, said; “Local government has lost a lot of its ‘local’ aspect since it was reorganised a couple of years ago. To compensate, we were meant to get extra powers and responsibilities, including wide powers to address dereliction and take forward regeneration schemes. However, the Stormont Executive, through the Minister for Communities has reneged on this important commitment of local government reform.”