Communities secretary Sajid Javid has said he is minded to approve the proposed ’Future Dorset’ reorganisation, that would see the area’s nine councils abolished and replaced with two new unitaries.
The plans, which would see one unitary council created for Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch BCs and a second for the remainder of the county, were backed by Mr Javid in a written statement to parliament, published this afternoon.
Mr Javid said: “I’ve always been clear that any change to council structures should be led by local councils as well as supported by local residents.
“I am satisfied that the proposals submitted are likely to improve local government, improve services and save local taxpayers money.
“So I am minded to support these plans at this stage, though further steps are needed to secure local consent, and I would urge all residents to take a look before a final decision is made.”
Mr Javid said further representations could be made to him or any council concerned until 8 January.
The Future Dorset plans are opposed by Christchurch and by East Dorset and Purbeck DCs. All told LGC they would be considering their next steps following the announcement.
A joint statement from the Dorset councils that back the plan said: “We presented overwhelmingly strong evidence to the Secretary of State – evidence of public support, of backing by Dorset’s business community and voluntary sector, and of immense benefits for the whole county. Our case for change showed that our plans will drive forward the economic prosperity of the county, helping people achieve a better quality of life.”
In his statement Mr Javid said he would decide at a later date whether there should also be a combined authority to facilitate collaboration between Dorset councils. He also said he was minded to approve Suffolk Coastal and Waveney DCs bid to merge.
Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, welcomed Mr Javid’s decision and said it signalled a “a new direction in government policy”.
Councils from a number of other county areas are also awaiting the communities secretary’s decision on their reorganisation bids. Mr Edwards said: “There will now be an expectation that evidence-based decisions on other proposals will be reached, such as those put forward by Buckinghamshire CC.”
However, Christchurch warned it might revive its original decision to hold a local referendum on the reorganisation, which was delayed when the general election was called. Leader David Flagg (Con) said: “[We] will now need to look at our decision to hold a postal referendum having deferred the original ballot. We still intend to make representation to the secretary of state and will now find out what options are available to us.”
East Dorset leader Spencer Flower (Con) said: “Further discussion by our elected members will determine whether there are any other actions we need to take.”
Both councils joined the Dorset Area Joint Committee that has led the reorganisation process to keep a voice in negotiations, but voted earlier this year not to support the change.
Purbeck DC leader Gary Suttle (Con) said: “In January 2017, Purbeck voted against the proposal and this position has not changed. Following today’s announcement by the Secretary of State, we will consider the implications for our residents and may make further representations during the consultation period”.