A giant combined authority spanning the south central coast of England should be created if councils in south east Dorset succeed in forming a unitary authority, the leader of Bournemouth BC has proposed.
In a report to the council’s cabinet this week, John Beesley (Con) described how the borough could form a unitary with neighbours Borough of Poole, Christchurch BC and East Dorset DC. This proposal led last month to complaints from other Dorset leaders that they were kept in the dark about the conurbation’s plan during recent discussions about forming a combined authority.
In a section headed ‘towards a devolved south’, ’Cllr Beesley’s report noted the combined authority bid by Hampshire CC, Portsmouth and Southampton city councils and Isle of Wight Council, and said: “There is a view that Bournemouth and the south east Dorset conurbation would be a very welcome addition to any future discussions about devolution in the south, based on existing business activity and travel to work information, but it would need to be part of a new alternative governance model such as a combined authority.”
Economic links between south east Dorset and the rest of the south west were “less clear”, it added.
Portsmouth leader Donna Jones (Con) told LGC: “I’ve spoken to John Beesley about this and there certainly is a common economy stretching roughly from Emsworth to Poole based around marine, financial and aerospace industries, but I think this would be co-operation rather than a new form of governance.”
Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole leaders agreed this week to keep working on their combined authority proposal despite the breakaway unitary bid. They have been invited to discuss devolution with communities secretary Greg Clark.
But the unitary idea has left a question mark over what would happen to authorities in the remainder of Dorset.
Dorset CC leader Robert Gould (Con) said: “We are looking at options that include a unitary including Bournemouth and Poole, a unitary for Dorset only and one unitary for south east Dorset and another for the rest of the county.
“You have to consider the signals coming from the government that it will devolve more powers to larger units.”
Weymouth & Portland BC management committee chair Ian Bruce (Con) said his council with North Dorset, Purbeck and West Dorset DCs would be viable as a unitary with some 280,000 people, but “it would have a dispersed rural population dotted around and you’d have to consider how you did that”.
Purbeck leader Gary Suttle (Con) said: “A combined authority to deal with roads and eocnomic development is the main thing.
“I think talk of unitaries is pie in the sky. There isn’t even a business case yet, just four people who’ve said they’d like to form one.”
South East Dorset potential unitary
East Dorset DC
Borough of Poole
Rural Dorset potential unitary
North Dorset DC
West Dorset DC
Weymouth & Portland BC