By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
08 July 2022 03:00
STORMONT Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has urged Causeway Coast and Glens councilors to take immediate action on recommendations made in a scathing report by the Audit Office or she will intervene.
Deirdre Hargey was speaking after an extraordinary audit revealed that two land deals agreed to by the council may not have been legal.
The report also identified a culture of “best practice circumvention” in the council’s dealings with land surrenders and easements.
Auditor Colette Kane has recommended an independent review of the board’s governance arrangements, overseen by the Department of Communities, as well as improved training for councillors.
Ms Kane also said the actions of some senior council officers fell “below the standards expected in a public body”.
Ms Hargey told reporters yesterday that councilors should have an urgent meeting to consider the recommendations.
She said she was seeking legal advice on how she can intervene if she “doesn’t see progress”.
“I support the recommendations and call for the immediate intervention and action of councilors who are the gatekeepers and leaders within this council to show leadership, transparency and accountability, that they act now. quickly and implement the recommendations that have been established by the auditor,” she said.
“I will work to make sure the board does that immediately, over the next few days and weeks, and if they fail to move this forward, I will legally look at what intervention is open for me to make sure I move forward. this work on behalf of the ratepayers in this council area to ensure that we can restore trust in the process and to ensure that we provide first class public services to the people who live in the Causeway Coast and Glens council area .
The audit, the first of its kind in the north, was ordered by former Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin in November 2020.
Ms Kane’s report highlighted two instances where she said significant shortcomings were evident – an easement of land in Portstewart for a proposed hotel project and the disposal of land in Coleraine.
The audit revealed that there was reason to conclude that they had not been granted legally.
Ms Kane said: ‘Throughout this audit, I have identified evidence that compliance with land and property legislation and best practice is not part of the culture of the council.’