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Borough goes it alone against Dorset reorganisation plans

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Council reorganisation in Dorset is not in the interest of residents, has not been fully considered and is going ahead without public support, Christchurch BC has told the communities secretary.

Christchurch has written to Mr Javid, ahead of Monday’s deadline for respresentations, proposing he creates a unitary out of Bournemouth BC and the Borough of Poole and leave the rest of Dorset as a two-tier structure.

The borough is now the only council to oppose locally-devised plans to create two unitary authorities out of nine in the county, referencing a recent local referendum that overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

Spencer Flower (Con), leader of East Dorset DC, told LGC his council and Purbeck DC, two other councils which had previously expressed concern about the proposals, now accepted Mr Javid’s decision that he was “minded to” approve the merger. Cllr Flower added: “Eight out of nine Dorset councils back the secretary’s plan.”

A spokesperson for Christchurch BC said legal advice would be sought and action would only be taken following a decision by the communities secretary. The council also approved a £15,000 budget to cover legal proceedings at a meeting on Tuesday.

David Flagg (Con), leader of Christchurch BC, said: “Having carried out the local poll it was clear that residents of Christchurch do not want to be part of a new authority with Bournemouth and Poole.”

In a December referendum with a 53% turnout, 84% of respondents in the borough voted against a proposal to create a single council covering Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole.

Cllr Flagg said: “Christchurch BC wishes to retain our sovereignty and we believe that retaining the existing two-tier structure in Dorset presents a credible alternative that the secretary of state will take time to consider.”

The Conservative-held borough council wrote in its representation to Mr Javid that “retaining independence and sovereignty is in the best interests of local people”.

A joint announcement by six council leaders following the referendum found there was still “clear evidence of support across the whole county”.

“We also know that the secretary of state will want to be sure that any decision he makes is likely to improve the area’s local government, has a good deal of local support in the area, and that each new council area itself is a credible geography for the proposed new structures,” the leaders wrote at the time.

Backers of the Future Dorset project argue that replacing Dorset’s nine councils with two new unitary authorities will help increase efficiency, save money and protect public services.

With increased cut-backs from central government grants expected, the project’s authors have forecast it will save £100m across the first six years. 

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