Environment Minister Mark Durkan has paid a visit to the group which is spearheading the reshuffle of local government in Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena.
As part of the move to reduce the number of councils in Northern Ireland from 26 to 11, Larne is to merge with Carrickfergus and Ballymena to form the new Mid and East Antrim super-council, which will come into being in shadow form after the elections in May.
In anticipation of the reform of public aministration (RPA), statutory transition committees (STCs) have been set up to perform preparatory work for the new councils, such as appointing chief executives.
SDLP representative Mr Durkan was in Ballymena recently to take part in the latest meeting of the Mid and East Antrim STC, which was held in the Braid centre.
Mr Durkan spoke of the “crucial role” the STCs play and added: “Going forward, I will support the changing role of the three existing councils and provide them with a robust and comprehensive legislative and operational framework so that the newly created Mid and East Antrim District Council is open for business in April, 2015.
“It’s now less than 500 days until that date and I am visiting the other STCs over the coming months to ensure that this critical transition work is moving at a pace towards delivery of a more effective, efficient, citizen-centred and responsive system of local government.”
The minister heard of the progress of the committee and addressed issues on topics including community planning and the benefits to local people of this approach, the merits of collaborative procurement as a way to achieve efficiencies and on the opportunities that the transfer of planning services will bring to the economy.
STC chairman, Alderman Billy Ashe, said: “The new Mid and East Antrim Council presents a huge opportunity for the area and for our citizens.
“I look forward to the transfer of some central government functions to the new council, in particular planning.
“I believe that the integration of these services with councils’ existing services will support us in building and growing our local economy. The jewel in the crown of local government reform has always been and remains the new duty placed upon councils to develop and implement a community plan.
“This will see all public services working even closer together to meet the needs of our local communities and our citizens.”