Identity fear for Larne after council reforms

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CONCERNS have been voiced that Larne could “lose its identity” under plans that will see the reshuffling of local government in Northern Ireland.

As the NI Executive’s drive to reduce the number of councils from 26 councils to 11 continues to gather momentum, local elected representatives have expressed fears regarding Larne’s position in the proposed new council area, which will also contain Ballymena and Carrickfergus.

Bodies known as voluntary Transition Committees, which are made up of councillors from each of the proposed new council areas, have been tasked with managing the implementation of the reforms.

But Larne Town Councillor Martin Wilson believes the borough is being left behind by the other two councils in its cluster.

The SDLP man – who sits on the local transition committee - said at the latest monthly meeting of Larne Council: “I feel our position in the committee is very weak. Carrick and Ballymena are engaging and we are being left out on a limb. Something has to be done as we are not getting our voices heard.”

TUV Alderman Jack McKee urged his fellow councillors to be “on the ball” to ensure they are getting “the best possible deal” for the Larne area.

“Larne quite often finds itself on the hind leg, and if there is an imbalance on the committee it needs to be addressed,” the veteran councillor added. “We stand to lose our identity as well as having to pay for the borrowings of other councils.”

Alliance Councillor John Mathews enquired how many committee meetings local members had been attending, and chief executive Geraldine McGahey responded: “Attendance rates are ok. It is rare that all five members are there together, but there are genuine reasons for that.”

Ald McKee suggested that if one member was unable to attend the committee meetings, another should be sent in their place. However, Mrs McGahey said: “There is not provision for a deputy to be sent along if another member is not present.”

The 11 voluntary Transition Committees are soon to be put on a statutory footing, and will then be responsible for talking key decisions in the run up to new councils being appointed in shadow form.

The Secretary of State has agreed in principle to legislate for the next local government election to be held in June 2014, allowing for a shadow period for the new incoming councils to run until April 2015. This will give the new councils time to adopt their full range of functions and duties.