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Tories resign to fight former colleagues as Dorset tension continues

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A group of anti-reorganisation Conservative councillors are set to stand against their former colleagues as independents in the forthcoming inaugural election of the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, as the fall-out from the reorganisation continues.

The five-strong group of former Christchurch BC councillors, who opposed the merger with Bournemouth BC and Borough of Poole, includes the former council leader David Flagg, a vocal critic of reorganisation. LGC understands Mr Flag was rejected by an internal Conservative party candidate approval process ahead of the election on May 2.

Nick Geary, another critic of reorganisation, is also said to have fallen foul of this process, which is required under Conservative rules as the candidates would be standing for a new council. Cllr Geary is also planning to stand as an independent.

The rest of the group is made up of Lesley Dedman, Paul Hilliard and Margaret Phipps.

Other Christchurch councillors who backed efforts to halt the creation of the new council, which was launched on Monday, opted not to enter the approval process.

Cllr Phipps resigned from the party in protest at reorganisation. She told LGC: “I decided I have had enough. I just wasn’t happy with the whole thing and thought there is something seriously wrong here.

“We stood up for our residents who said they didn’t want this and that was not embraced by the local party or the Conservative government that passed the legislation. We have been betrayed.”

Cllr Phipps also criticised the new council’s plan to harmonise council tax levels across the three former council areas over seven years. This means Christchurch residents will pay more over the period than the counterparts in Bournemouth and Poole.

This is in contrast to the new Dorset Council, which was launched on the same day and harmonised council tax immediately across all former council areas.

Under budget proposals agreed at the final meeting of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole shadow authority on February 12, residents in Poole will see a council tax rise of 2.99%, taking the average band D charge to £1,441. There will be a 2.4% rise in Bournemouth to £1,473, while a reduction in Christchurch will result in an average band D charge of £1,598. The schedule for harmonisation shows the level in Bournemouth will be frozen for the following five years.

Cllr Phipps said the independents had proposed an alternative proposal, which would use an average of 2018-19 council tax rates across all areas and the 2.99% increase permitted without a referendum to create an average band D charge of £1,488.

This would see a council tax increase of 3.5% in Bournemouth, 6.4% in Poole and a 7.4% decrease in Christchurch, she said. This was rejected by the shadow authority, with pro-reorganisation former Christchurch councillors said to have abstained.

Christchurch accepted it would be abolished following the failure of a legal challenge to reorganisation in August last year.

Former Christchurch councillor David Jones (Con), opted to not go through the candidate approval process, said the council had co-operated with the new council’s shadow executive “to the full extent of the law” but was voted down “every single time”.

He also said the current council tax arrangement was unfair.

“Every single unitary [council] has harmonisation of council tax on day one.

“Yes, it is going to hurt but Christchurch residents will be paying for this and receiving worse services.”

Cllr Flagg and Geary and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole has been approached for comment.

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