Dorset super-councils proposal wins government endorsement

Plans to merge Dorset's nine councils into just two have been endorsed by communities secretary Sajid Javid, who said yesterday that he is 'minded' to implement the reorganisation.

Poole: Javid backs council mergers
Poole: Javid backs council mergers

The "Future Dorset" proposal, submitted to Javid in February, would see the creation of one unitary authority based on the Bournemouth-Poole conurbation, taking in the Dorset district of Christchurch, and another for the county’s five remaining districts.

The proposal has backing from Dorset County Council, the unitary Bournemouth and Poole Borough Councils and three shire districts – North Dorset, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland. But it is opposed by the three districts fringing the conurbation – Christchurch, East Dorset and Purbeck.

In a Commons statement yesterday, Javid said: "I am satisfied on the basis of the information currently available to me that this proposal is likely to improve local government across the area, establishing two new councils with a credible geography, and which would command local support."

All councils in the area, including the three that oppose the plans, are already working together in joint implementation committees. "However, further steps are needed to secure local consent, and I hope this announcement will facilitate the necessary discussions to conclude this," said Javid.

Javid has allowed a period for further comment running until 8 January to allow further representations, including possible modifications or alternative proposals.

The final decision would be subject to Parliamentary approval. If this is forthcoming in the 2017/18 session, the new councils would be set up in April 2019, with elections following a month later.

Christchurch Council leader David Flagg said his authority intends to make representations to the secretary of state and "find out what options are available to us". Flagg said members will need to consider reviving deferred plans for a postal referendum on the issue.

Purbeck Council leader Gary Suttle said his authority’s position has "not changed" since members voted against the merger in January. "We will consider the implications for our residents and may make further representations during the consultation period," said Suttle.

East Dorset Council leader Spencer Flower added: "Further discussion by our elected members will determine whether there are any other actions we need to take."

But Javid’s announcement was welcomed by the leaders of the six councils behind the Future Dorset plan. "We have bold ambitions for our county, and strongly believe our plan will deliver a bright and successful future for all those who live here," they said in a joint statement.

"These two councils will have greater influence nationally and will be better able to secure vital funding for things such as roads and housing. This will make the area more attractive to businesses, help them to grow and thrive, meaning enhanced job prospects and better lives for local people."

The announcement was also welcomed by the Unite the Conurbation group, which is pressing for the merger of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. "There is a critical need to maximise efficiency to enable the best possible service levels while developing a strong united vision and strategic policies which can attract the right investment to ensure a healthy and sustainable future," said group chair Douglas Eyre.

"A consistent approach to infrastructure and housing planning will make the county more attractive to businesses wanting to relocate," said Ian Girling, chief executive of the Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Javid also announced yesterday that he is minded to approve – again subject to Parliamentary approval – a proposal lodged by Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils to merge into a single authority.

He said the Suffolk authorities’ proposal is likely to improve local government in the area, commands local support and is based on a "credible geography". He made clear that he intends to assess any further "locally-led" merger proposals against the same criteria.

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