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Move to new boundaries took 12 years to implement - The Irish News
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Move to new boundaries took 12 years to implement

Connla Young

LONG-DELAYED plans to slash the number of council districts in northern Ireland will take a decisive step forward in May when voters goes to the polls.

As well as covering considerably larger areas, the 11 new councils which will finally come into effect next year will have additional powers including more control over planning.

Ten of the planned new authorities have already appointed chief executives, at an annual cost of around £1 million to ratepayers.

The new structures, intended to cut bureaucracy and save money, will see the overall number of councillors reduced from 582 to 462, although their salary costs will actually be higher due to a controversial £4,500 pay rise announced last week.

The cost in the first year is expected to be around £7.3m.

The reforms have been supported with a £17.8m Stormont package over two years to cover severance payments to outgoing councillors, costs of converging systems, and the bill for running the councils in shadow form for the first 10 months.

There has been a commitment to a further £30m to even out sudden rises in rates due to boundary changes.

It has been suggested the reduction in councils could bring savings of around £500m over 25 years.

Former boundary commissioner Maurice Hayes last week warned a number of existing council buildings are in danger of becoming "white elephants".

His comments came after it emerged the construction of new local authority offices ahead of the establishment of the supercouncil districts may have created debt that will take years to clear.

In october 2012 down district Council opened offices at a cost of £11m, while newry and Mourne council plans to spend £350,000 to host meetings of the same council cluster.

Plans to reform the current network of 26 councils were first announced in 2002, with proposals for seven new authorities revealed three years later.

The restored assembly later increased this to 11, but disagreements over boundaries pushed a target date for elections of May 2011 back to this year.

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