THE council has mounted a robust defence of its track-record in the wake of a blistering verbal assault from a former Mayor of Antrim.
Last week Adrian Watson forcefully argued that public confidence in the ‘super council’ was ebbing away.
He went on to blast Newtownabbey’s in-built numerical majority, lavish robes, council junkets, spiralling debt and meetings behind closed doors.
“Antrim is being left behind. That can’t be allowed to continue,” said the former MLA.
But the council has hit back this week, taking the UUP man to task for the media mauling.
“Far from limping towards the final months of the first full term – nothing could be further from the truth as the compelling evidence demonstrates,” said an unnamed spokesperson.
“As an award winning Council, over the entire current Council term, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has been one of the leading local government authorities in NI which has been verified by the number of regional and national awards won, as reported by the Antrim Guardian.
“Far from being ‘left behind’ when the two Councils merged, Antrim’s rates were almost eight per cent higher than Newtownabbey’s and furthermore as a result of convergence, Antrim ratepayers experienced a reduction of four per cent while Newtownabbey ratepayers experienced an increase of three per cent.
“Additionally, Antrim has benefited from an unprecedented investment by the council in the Antrim area when compared to other areas. Indeed Antrim by far tops the league compared to other areas in the borough when it comes to Capital investment.
“Since April 2015, the council has delivered a significant capital development programme. Out of an overall capital investment of £9 million, the Antrim, Airport and Dunsilly District Electoral Areas have had a substantial investment of over £6.4 million - £5.8 million of which is in the Antrim area alone.
“This investment has supported capital projects such as the new Gateway Centre and new inclusive play park at Antrim Lough Shore, Crumlin Leisure Centre, the Pump House at Antrim Castle Gardens, Antrim Forum Synthetic Pitch and new outdoor changing.
“We have also invested at Allen Park with new 3G pitches, sports hall, driving range upgrade and golf simulator, Sixmile Water Caravan Park upgrade and Antrim and Randalstown Streetscaping.
“Events that took place in this end of the Borough not only serve those locally but attract tourists to the area generally supporting accommodation, restaurants, retail and tourism providers. Some of the major events that Council either hosted or supported over the last 12 months were specifically in the Antrim area.”
The spokesperson added: “The decision to provide robes for Members who wished to wear them, was unanimously agreed at a Council meeting on 26 March 2015. It is worth noting that former councillor Adrian Cochrane-Watson was in attendance at this meeting.
“Indeed, we believe that Adrian Cochrane–Watson wore the robes when he was a councillor.
“The decision to have a Mayoral car was agreed on 3 November 2015, to support the Mayor as First Citizen of the Borough to attend the many hundreds of events across the much larger Borough.”
She added that the suggestion that the Chief Executive took part in ‘secret’ talks with the Group Leaders before monthly meetings was ‘misleading’.
“Group Leader meetings are held to brief Party leaders in advance of the Council meetings for the sole purpose of providing respective parties the opportunity to discuss business items at their Party Group meetings, prior to the Council meeting.
“This is common practice and again contrary to Mr Watson’s remarks about how business was carried out in the former Council. Group Leader meetings took place in the former Antrim Borough Council and this process is in place in Councils throughout Northern Ireland.
“To clarify Mr Cochrane-Watson’s comment on the number of elected representatives - 16 from Antrim and 24 from Newtownabbey - this is part of a democratic process of which Council has no control or influence over.”