At present, councils in Northern Ireland have relatively few powers compared to their counterparts in Britain and the Republic. The most significant regulatory powers are building control and environmental health. Councils also clean streets, manage waste and recycling, and maintain parks, leisure and entertainment facilities, and cemeteries. Their animal welfare remit includes dog control and the enforcement of laws protecting non-agricultural animals e.g. domestic pets. Councils also support local community relations initiatives.
From 1 April
In addition to their existing responsibilities, the new councils will take on responsibility for local area planning, development control and planning enforcement. They will also promote local economic development – currently overseen by Invest NI. Responsibility for off-street parking facilities, water-related recreational facilities and small scale tourism development will also transfer to local government.
Due in 2016
Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey has confirmed that the transfer of urban regeneration powers and support for voluntary and community groups will now take place on 1 April 2016. Storey has stated that this is due to the length of time taken to agree the Regeneration Bill, which is now unlikely to be enacted before April 2015. He will also review the statutory fitness standard for housing which will be used by councils after the 2016 transfer.
Under the new arrangements, councillors will continue to represent local interests on policing and community safety partnerships, local commissioning groups for health and social care, the Housing Council, and the boards of the Housing Executive, Libraries NI and the Public Health Agency. Councillors may also be among the political members of the Education Authority although there is no requirement to appoint these members from local government.