Northern Ireland poised for power shift

Planning powers are set to be handed back to councils in Northern Ireland as part of a local government shake-up.

Northern Ireland minister Peter Hain announced this week that the number of local authorities will be slashed from 26 to seven. The number of public bodies in health and social services, education and local government will be reduced from 67 to 20.

The move is the outcome of a review of public administration. Hain estimated that it will produce efficiency savings of £200 million a year. He also said local government will be given back powers over a number of functions including planning, local roads, physical regeneration and local economic development.

A revised system of community planning will be established in which councils will have a statutory duty to develop and co-ordinate the delivery of local plans to address communities' needs, he added.

Bill Morrison, former divisional planning manager at the Department of the Environment, said: "Giving planning powers back to local authorities is a good thing because that is the natural place where they should be."

Morrison suggested that if too many small councils have planning powers they can lose sight of overall strategy. He argued that all aspects of planning must be handed over to avoid major plan-making being retained by central government.

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