Mid and East Antrim Council has debated a recommendation that it should pursue borough status and adopt Carrick Council’s charter.
Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Council Anne Donaghy told members of the policy and resources committee that the council had three options.
The first, to make a new application for borough status, could cost £10,000-20,000 and the lengthy process means that the council would remain a district, unable to appoint a mayor or Aldermen for up to a year. There is also the risk of the petition being declined by the Secretary of State.
The second option, to retain the charter of an existing council, would cost £1,000. This could automatically take effect on April 1, 2015, ensuring the continuation of borough status. Freemen of previous councils could transfer to the new charter.
The third option, to remain a district council, would cost nothing but would mean the council could not appoint a mayor, deputy mayor and Aldermen or confer freedom of the district. Previous freedoms conferred by the predecessor councils would also be nullified.
Mrs Donaghy stated: “If we take one of the existing borough’s charters that would cost £1,000 and if we get approval at the next council meeting it would allow officers to work and on April 1 we could be in a position where it was brought in with immediate effect.”
She stated that option two, to adopt an existing charter, was the preferred option.
Mrs Donaghy added: “If we want to become a borough we can do it for £1,000 and it will come in right away, or in the other case for £10,000-20,000 and it takes up to two years.”
Committee chairman Cllr John Stewart said that option two “seemed the most obvious”.
In reponse to a question from UUP Cllr Stephen Nicholl, Mrs Donaghy said that while there was a different procedure regarding the appointment of Aldermen across the boroughs, the three charters were “basically the same” in terms of what they allowed council to do. She added that the fact that Carrick held one of Northern Ireland’s oldest charters could be something for members to consider, and that whichever charter was chosen would have no impact on the current status of the three boroughs, which would eventually be dissolved.
DUP Cllr Paul Reid said he would be happy to propose the option to adopt an existing charter. This was seconded by his party colleague Cllr Gregg McKeen.
However, Sinn Fein Cllr Paul Maguire said that his party would prefer that the new council adopt district status. He stated that he was not opposed to the other two options, but felt he could not support them at this stage. He continued: “The only option that fully considers the citizens is option three.
“In a time of austerity and such social and economic deprivation, we feel that the time is not right and sense we are being rushed into this and we shouldn’t be.
“The only benefit to anybody is ceremonial.”
Cllr Stewart replied that borough status would enable council to reward those who make “important contributions” to their community.
SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan said he supported using an existing charter and that it was “good value for the citizens we serve”. He commented: “It gives status to our area and I think you can use that status to confer benefits on our citizens. It will be a difficult task to draw our disparate regions together and the existence of a mayor can be a significant unifying factor.”
The recommendation to pursue borough status and to adopt Carrick’s charter was approved by the committee, and will now go forward to the full council meeting.