Council re-organisation and the big issue…

Mark Langhammer has been saying for some time now that the Review of Public Adminstration may be one important way of getting some political governance back to Northern Ireland whilst the big stand off over the Assembly and Executive continues. Though, it’s thought in some council circles that too many councillors are keen on the status, but not the responsibility that real power might bring. Jude Collins looks at the battle for ground between Unionists and Nationalists that the minimalist solution (effectively six county type and one metropolitan Belfast council) might give rise to.

Adds: Yorkshireman Andrew McCann responds to Jude, especially on the Belfast demographic question.

  • Mike

    I would’ve thought the re-drawing of the Belfast City Council makes sense – there’s a lot of Belfast that isn’t currently within the city council boundary, and if we’re going to have a small number of ‘super-councils’, an unchanged Belfast City Council boundary would look even more anomalous.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Not since everyone stopped listening to Tim Pat Coogan have I seen such a shameless case of ‘count the Catholics’.
    I can see why Collins feels it is necessary to do this but really, how shamelessly tribal and depressing.

  • Henry Fitzpatrick

    Oh God in Heaven but the heart weeps to read an “academic” frothing on about ‘Brits’. I don’t know where that man has tenure, but close it down now and get rid of its faux demotic middle class poseurs please. Really, ‘Brits’, I ask you. Whatever the northern equivalent of Oirish/Mockney is, everyone who uses it ought to die of shame. But anyway . . .

    As far as the Councils are concerned, the answer is 8.

    Each county should have a county council. Simple. Have elections in 3rds and have one year off. And in an ideal world, get rid of PR.

    Then, for Belfast and Londonderry, look realistically at what their genuine metropolitan limits are. Then base the metropolitan councils on that, taking out of the county/counties they’re in whatever the two cities each really cover (with, obviously, some, but not much, ‘growth space’). The two cities should be each elected in full in the counties’ year off. Again, a just God would smite those who advocate PR as the electoral method.

  • Shore Road Resident

    JC is an academic at the University of Ulster, where his charm is legendary.

  • slug

    What is Collins’ academic discipline?

  • idunnomeself

    The 7 councils aren’t based on the counties. they are based on groupings of the existing councils. The maps are in the previous consultation document.

    I fail to follow the logic in this piece. We start off with him justifying his headcount with ‘we have to think about because we don’t want poor Nationalists to be left under Unionist control’ then it turns into ‘eek, lots of Nationalist councils’??

    It makes sense for Belfast to be bigger, Castlereagh residents pay the lowest rates in NI because they use the facilities in Belfast (which has the highest rates).

    There is a chance it isn’t some sort of political conspiracy, rather it is suggested because it MAKES SENSE. The DUP stand to loose their Castlereagh fifedom too under their proposal.

  • idunnomeself

    Also I see he can’t help reinforcing that Protestants moved out of Belfast because they hate taigs.

    Nice. You just stoke that fear and suspicion, just slip that in there. Never mind the fact that in the 60s and 70s people moved to the suburbs everywhere in the UK. Obviously whatever motivated them didn’t also apply here because Unionists only act under one influence- blind bitter hatred of Catholics.

    or ‘Taigs’ as Jude likes to remind his readers that Protestants think of them as. While they sit in Lisburn and plot how to stop them being bin collection committee vice chair.

  • IDM, I did say county type. Maps appended here.

  • elfinto

    While there may be a strong case for expanding the boundaries of Belfast, the real-politik of the situation is that there is no way that nationalists in Belfast will ever go back under unionist domination again. The discrimiatory record of Belfast council under unionist control was disgraceful.

    Maybe there is a solution which involves moving nationalist areas which are currently in Lisburn council area into Belfast and doing the same with parts of Castlereagh district. The government should ensure that the current balance of power is maintained.

  • Mick Fealty

    Whatever the virtue of the motive, is that not a form of Gerrymandering?

  • Daugavas

    Elfinto I think the dynamics of the situation have changed considerably since the Unionist dominated era in Belfast with the DUP now willing to vote for SDLP mayors for example. There’s really no justification for not having an expanded Belfast absorb Castlereagh, non-Ballyclare Newtownabbey and the Dunmurry Poleglass urban belt. Adding Poleglass & Cregagh but leaving out Newtonbreda and Rathcoole would be a nonsense.

    idunnomeself, the rate of population drop in Belfast from about 420000 in 1971 to about 307000 in 1981 (if we allow for the census boycott in the latter year) was far more dramatic than any other comparable British city and the only real explanation can be urban flight from the detoriating political situation.

    Henry F abolishing pr and bringing in election by thirds? What an utterly stupid idea – NI has enough elections as it is without having increasing the frequency of council elections! What’s wrong with keeping the current pr system which has worked extremely well?

  • mnob

    It just goes to show that noone is averse to a bit of Gerrymandering. How can republicans complain about pre 1969 Gerrymandering and then demand their own version of it ?

    Just goes to show that nobody is interested in politics other than the sectarian head count and republicans have just about joined the status quo of jobs for life politicians. So much for recolutionary change. Its all quite reassuring for Unionists.

    The word on the street BTW is that 11 is a much more realistic number.

    Slightly OT but the latest Economist has an interesting article on gerrymandering in California. If you want to see f*cked up electoral disctricts take a look there – they have several districts contain have areas not connected together at all !!

  • elfinto

    Why should Belfast and all it’s satellite towns and ‘city’ should be part of one super-council? It does not happen in London where there are literally dozens of boroughs. It does not happen in Dublin where there are Fingal and South Dublin councils in addition to Dublin city council. So there’s no reason why Castlereagh or Newtownabbey should be subsumed into Belfast.

    Unionist majority rule may continue in Ballymena and Lisburn but it will not return to Belfast.

  • mnob

    elfinto you pretty much answered your own question – because logic doesnt apply – its a sectarian bunfight and in your last sentence you join in.

  • slug

    I see. Nationalists want a gerrymander.

  • Nestor Makhno

    idunnonmyselfThere is a chance it isn’t some sort of political conspiracy, rather it is suggested because it MAKES SENSE.

    Quite right. The current 26 Council are hugely inefficient and encourage mediocrity in the delivery of services and petty point-scoring on the part of politicians. I suspect the current district council system was only kept in place to act as some sort of nursery for local politicians during direct rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

    (In a way this has been a success – it gave political parties a raison d’etre during the lean times – who wants to be involved in politics if there is never any chance of power – even if that only means being on an environmental health sub-committee)?

    Have a look at Manchester or Leeds. They have strong councils that are actually getting things done in their cities – and making sure that they get their fair slice of the cake.

    Now look at Belfast – ok, so it’s done well economically in the last while – but my god, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in charge when it comes to sorting out things like planning, roads, housing, deprivation. The list goes on. And why did no one kick up a storm about the National Stadium being stuck in a field in the middle of nowhere? The City Council is currently hamstrung – it doesn’t have the right powers (they’re with civil servants in Stormont) and it isn’t even in charge of the outer third of the city proper. Give it a proper city government – and maybe a strong mayor who’ll get things done?

    The RPA needs to sort this out.

  • slug

    Maybe a directly elected mayor by a AV vote (PRSTV with one member).

  • Daugavas

    “Why should Belfast and all it’s satellite towns and ‘city’ should be part of one super-council? It does not happen in London where there are literally dozens of boroughs.”

    Er yes it does since there is a Greater London authority and long before that the GLC. Also most people wouldn’t suggest that satellite towns be included as there is obviously a difference between historic towns like Bangor and Lisburn and council estates like Rathcoole and Twinbrook built in the post-war period on the fringes of the city purely to house Belfast overspill.

    The reason for the reform is as I understand it quite simply to save money by having less councillors and also bigger councils have more resources and thus are better able to employ technical staff which smaller councils cannot afford. Another reason for adding these areas is that at present its manifestly unfair for Belfast city residents to basically subsidise services for residents of Castlereagh, Newtownabbey et al.

  • idunnomeself

    Dau:

    Fleeing trouble isn’t the same as moving because you hate the other side. The flight happened while Belfast was solidly Unionist anyway. His point is just wrong. Most people moved to improve their standard of living, its just the troubles provided another push factor than there was in Liverpool or Dublin (although moves to the suburbs ripped the heart out of plenty of other cities too)

    mnob:
    there will be 7. (instinct is 7c) the interesting question is what powers they will be given because bigger councils are the best way to join things up. like Nestor says.

    But I am really depressed that when it comes to something like ‘who empties my bin’ so many people seem to be obsessed with what do the bin men think about the border. I just hope they do what is sensible and provides the best services for ratepayers. And that means urban castlereagh and newtownabbey in Belfast council

  • Being from Newtownabbey originally, I’d be quite happy to see the southern part of it subsumed by Belfast. You can’t actually see any discernable join anyway (it’s at Bawnmore) and in reality I’ve always said that Newtownabbey is just a suburb of Belfast. One of the proposals was to include Castlereagh with BCC (but not N/abbey) so that’s obviously possible.

    And by all means, Belfast should get Poleglass/Twinbrook back from Lisburn CC. The Royal Mail think it’s Belfast, the people living there think it’s (west) Belfast – there’s no reason for the politicians not to accept it.

  • Traditional unionist

    I think they should go for 15a but will go for 11a.

  • irishman

    On each of the models proposed by the Review Body, Belfast AS IS would not change quite simply because there is NO NEED for it to.

    This is because the objective is to have all 7-11-15 councils with roughly the same population base. This is achievable without altering the boundaries of Belfast quite simply be merging the other councils until they reach the population level of Belfast.

    IN only ONE model is the option of expanding Belfast’s boundaries proposed- that is, where Castlereagh is proposed to merge with Belfast. The net result of this would be to create one Council much larger than the remaining 6- AND to make Belfast an overwhelmingly unionist city.

    That would be the gerrymander, Mick, as the clear objective would be to make the city unionist in spite of the fact that the council would have a much larger population than the remaining six councils.

    This was an excellent piece by Jude Collins. I await with anticipation action being taken to remove the posts seeking to personally demean Mr. Collins’ academic credentials. Perhaps we might even see a thread being set up to discuss this disappointing trend amongst unionist poster??????

  • “That would be the gerrymander, Mick, as the clear objective would be to make the city unionist in spite of the fact that the council would have a much larger population than the remaining six councils.”
    Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly what they had in mind, nothing to do with the fact that Castlereagh, for all intensive purposes, basically is part of Belfast.

    If you actually look at the model that proposes this – the new Belfast would only have 20k more citizens than the “Co Down” one. The same (nearly) model with Castlereagh outside Belfast, results in a “Co. Down” type area with a population 111k larger than Belfast.

    Gerrymandering indeed.

  • Alan

    Clearly Jude Collins would prefer to see Belfast as a suburb of Ballyhackballscross. It really is a bilious and sectarian little piece.

    Belfast needs to expand. It is our principal focus for investment, economically feeds populations from Newry to Lurgan and up to Ballymena (check out the morning motorway traffic), and needs a strong rate borne budget to make a difference. As a Belfastman, I want one strong council that can re-unite a city that was divided by the bureaucrats.

    Logically it needs to expand into Castlereagh ( by crossing Ladas Drive )and Newtonabbey. I would suggest that Twinbrooke / Poleglass get the call as well.

    On Collins miserable little comment on the reduction of numbers in the city, it was primarily due to redevelopment in working class areas in the 70’s. The Shankill, for instance was reduced by redevelopment from around 75,000 to around 25,000. There were similar changes across the city. Where did people move to? Ballybeen, Tullycarnet,Belvior, Twinbrooke, Poleglass, Tynedale, Benview, Ballyduff, Rathcoole, not to mention Craigavon and Antrim. They went where the houses were being built.

  • irishman

    Nonsense, Alan.

    Belfast does not need to expand at all. There is no logical reason for Belfast being any larger than the remaining 6 councils. In fact, the co-terminosity argument provides compelling reasons why each council area should have roughly the same population (and therefore, rates) base.

    If you were being honest, Alan, you would admit that yours is basically a sectarian argument dressed up to conceal the fact that you want Belfast to return to unionist hands.

  • irishman

    Beano

    Your attempting to be rather disingenous.

    Let the facts speak for themselves, Beano.

    Option 7A
    Council populations (in thousands-K):
    343K
    166K
    175K
    225K
    322K
    188K
    263K

    Option 7B
    277K
    166K
    215K
    388K
    185K
    188K
    263K

    Option 7C
    277K
    274K
    215K
    279K
    263K
    185K
    188K

    Beyond any doubt, Option 7C provides the most equitable population bases for the proposed new councils. The two councils with less than 200,000 populations would be for the North Antrim and West of Bann councils, where adding extra councils would simply make them too big in a geographic sense- and not alter the political composition in any case.

    Both options 7A and 7B have massive differentials in population bases for councils- with both allowing for councils DOUBLE the population sizes of other proposed councils.

    You should do yours maths, Beano, before submitting posts with misleading observations.

  • Sure why don’t we make it even more equitable by dividing Belfast in two?

    There’s more to council boundary planning than size alone – like the cohesion of the area.

    As for the accusation you made a couple of posts ago – to be honest, before this thread I hadn’t even considered that extending Belfast would make it ‘more unionist’. Your posts here seem to be the only ones obsessed with the tribal headcount.

  • stu

    Irishman

    I live in an area where I pay my rates to Castlereagh Borough Council. I am about 300 yards, at most, beyond Belfast City Council limits. I, the Post Office, the electoral board, and just about anyone else who could care to comment, believe I live in Belfast. Even the Metro goes way further out than my house. The population around me consider themselves to live and work in Belfast.

    If you live in Belfast, I can only believe that you are afraid of having the populations of the suburbs added to the city council in case they (gasp) vote for who they want, even if it isn’t Sinn Fein. If you don’t live in Belfast, you don’t understand the situation properly, that much I can guarantee. Perhaps you’d like to see Belfast pull itself apart, in case it was ever able to rival Dublin? It did once, and with a sufficient amount of investment it could too- this morning I had people from Fairview looking around my house- Dublin is too expensive for them these days.

    I would like to see the council boundaries extended as far as Rathcoole, Monkstown etc in the north, as far west as Poleglass and Twinbrook, south to take in Newtownbreda and the Four Winds, and east as far Ballybeen, perhaps even Holywood. The majority of these people work in Belfast and use Belfast services, I would think.

  • willowfield

    Irishman

    Don’t be ridiculous. What is the logic in dividing the Belfast urban area into 3 councils? There should be a single council for Belfast. It would be ridiculous to have people living in Cregagh or Glengormley or Poleglass as part of councils based in Downpatrick or Ballymena or somewhere. What sort of sense does that make for the planning of services and for town planning generally?

    Wise up.

  • Daugavas

    Irishman: “This is because the objective is to have all 7-11-15 councils with roughly the same population base. This is achievable without altering the boundaries of Belfast quite simply be merging the other councils until they reach the population level of Belfast. ”

    No the objective is not at all to have equality of population and / or electorates.

    The terms of reference very clearly stated are

    Democratic Accountability
    Community responsiveness and partnership working
    Cross-community concerns
    Equality and Human Rights (including equity of access)
    Subsidiarity
    Quality of Service
    Co-ordination and Integration of services
    Scope of the public sector
    Efficiency and effectiveness
    Innovation and business organisation

    Nowhere is equality of council size mentioned. You even acknowledge the reason yourself – that it is undesirable for rural areas to have the same population base as a large compact urban area as this would make them unwieldy and unresponsive in terms of size. There is no compelling reason to have the Belfast suburbs excluded as every party including Sinn Fein acknowledge that they are part of Belfast.

  • Alan

    “If you were being honest, Alan, you would admit that yours is basically a sectarian argument dressed up to conceal the fact that you want Belfast to return to unionist hands.”

    That would be true if I were a Unionist, but I’m not.

    I have just given you a logical reason, namely

    *Belfast needs to expand. It is our principal focus for investment, economically feeds populations from Newry to Lurgan and up to Ballymena (check out the morning motorway traffic), and needs a strong rate borne budget to make a difference.*

    You have completely failed to step up to that arguement. You need to step out from behind own puerile tribalism. The Review of Public Administration is about creating a society that is better for all, not seeking to balance the divisions that have plagued our society.

    Denis Bradley, speaking at the SDLP conference today spoke of the need to end balancing everything in terms of *five of theirs and five of ours* and replacing it by balancing *five of the best people with five more of the best people.* There’s vision for you.

  • PaddyReilly

    A gerrymander is an instrument for depriving the maximum number of people of the govt of their choice. The 6 co state is a gerrymander: at the time of its creation it was bad enough, with 600,000 Protestants to 300,000 Catholics, but it has never been more of a gerrymander than it is now.

    The word “gerrymander“ has no standing in law: there is no law “thou shalt not gerrymander“, but in the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted into law by the GFA and the Human Rights Act, it is ordered that there shall be no discrimination in the exercise of political rights: one party shall not be granted rights which another is denied. The point is, there is discrimination, since only one side, the Unionist, has until now had the power to draw borders, and only one side enjoys the power of seceding within borders of their own making.

    To restore proper balance in the context of the continuation of the 6 county state, then obviously it follows that the right of creating county boundaries should be vested in the Nationalist side, to compensate them for the fact that Unionists have a monopoly of state boundary drawing.

    If this is unacceptable to the Unionists, then we could always swap around and allow the Unionists to draw the local govt boundaries, and the Nationalists the state ones.

    Power sharing is not possible within an institution, if one of the parties refuses to participate: but when there is more than one institution involved, then it is possible that they can share power between them.

    Now with regard to the above comments.
    It might make sense to reunite Belfast with its suburbs, but it makes greater sense to reunite the 6 cos with Donegal. If there is a Unionist veto on the latter, why should there not be a Nationalist veto on the former?

    It is not possible for Nationalists to commit gerrymander within the 6 co area: all they would be doing would be clawing back a tiny part of what would have been theirs if the entire province had not been gerrymandered.

    To those who are depressed by tribalism and sectarian headcounts: that’s what NI is about. The function of good government is to give the maximum number of people the sort of regime they want. What we have at present is the reverse.

  • “It might make sense to reunite Belfast with its suburbs, but it makes greater sense to reunite the 6 cos with Donegal.”

    You want us to invade the Republic?

  • irishman

    Willowfield, Duagavas and Alan

    The existence of a number of councils in the greater Belfast area today illustrates how a Metro Belfast Council is by no means a necessary requirement of reform. The establishment of the Executive and Assembly would see most of the significant policy decisions taken at a higher level- certainly in terms of transport and Planning policies.

    Indeed, the fact that- of the 9 proposals put on the table by the RPA Body- only ONE envisaged anything resembling a Metropolitan Belfast council illustrates how unimportant the establishment of such a council was for the Review Body, particularly when measured against the need to provide a BALANCED population base to support each council by giving substantial rate bases to each.

    A Metro Belfast Council only featured in the 15 council model, where the 4 Belfast P’mentary councils were to be amalgamated.

    The only other option to suggest adding anything at all to Belfast was one of the 7 Council models- and at that, only Castelereagh. This is hardly going to meet Alan’s lofty ideals of a council suiting the needs of all from Newry to Ballymena- and nor should it.

    Incidentally, Alan, were traffic congestion and commuter routes to determine the boundaries of Council areas, Dublin would have to expand to incorporate Dundalk and Naas!

    Willowfield
    “It would be ridiculous to have people living in Cregagh or Glengormley or Poleglass as part of councils based in Downpatrick or Ballymena or somewhere. What sort of sense does that make for the planning of services and for town planning generally?”

    Classic stuff, my friend. What on earth does the location of Council HQ have to do with town planning? Would you like a mobile Civic Centre to travel around every village in Council areas?

    Under the proposals that exist at the moment, there is going to be a substantial reduction of Councils here. It is inevitable that many towns will end up in every new Council.

    It is also inevitable that the boundaries of Belfast council will fall in urban areas: that is, unless you’re proposing Belfast running out to Kilroot, down to Bangor, out to Hillsborough and taking in all of Lisburn as well? (I suggest Willowfield checks with Jeffrey Donaldson on that one: I don’t think he’s too keen on losing his wee fiefdom…)

  • indeed, the fact that- of the 9 proposals put on the table by the RPA Body- only ONE envisaged anything resembling a Metropolitan Belfast council illustrates how unimportant the establishment of such a council was for the Review Body

    Or that they’re afraid to upset the sectarian applecart and will therefore fly in the face of logic.

    “I suggest Willowfield checks with Jeffrey Donaldson on that one: I don’t think he’s too keen on losing his wee fiefdom…”

    and it’s precisely those sorts of parochial interests that are best ignored!

  • Alan

    Irishman,

    *the 4 Belfast P’mentary councils*

    It’s clear that you know nothing about Belfast.

    I’m talking about joining areas of continuous urban development, house next to house, not dormitory settlement in separate towns.

    We need a strong Belfast Council that can drive development for the whole of the drive to work area. Its development will pay the rates in most of the other council areas as well.

    It is time to talk economics not tribe.

  • irishman

    Alan

    for councils read constituencies- hardly a great error. Indeed, the fact that this was the sum total of your critique of my post indicates how out of depth you are on this discussion.

  • stu

    irishman

    how very low of you. Alan raises a valid point- he is talking about people on the outskirts of Belfast, a city that, like it or not, is expanding. I myself am on the border, but would very much consider this Belfast, and your idea of preventing almaganation could see the council being administered from a county town. I work in Belfast. I spend most of my money there, and use a lot of their services. I think it be sensible that my council should therefore be Belfast, which has an existing council more relevant to me than one in another town that will be mostly concerned with other county towns and the countryside.