National and Devolved Politics

17.05.18

Dorset merger to go ahead as government rejects 'absurd' challenge

A legal challenge submitted by Christchurch Borough Council against the planned merger of Dorset local authorities has been labelled as “an absurd intention to impute to parliament,” the government has said.

In a scathing letter written by the new housing and communities secretary, James Brokenshire, in response to a legal bid from Christchurch Borough Council (led by MP Sir Christopher Chope), the government claimed the challenge was seen to be “without merit.”

Earlier this month the Dorset council merger – which aims to join Christchurch Borough Council with surrounding Bournemouth and Poole councils – was stalled after then communities secretary Sajid Javid was accused of acting “beyond his powers” when he green-lit the plans in February.

Chope said he wished to sit on the legislative committee formulating and approving the merger so he could vote against it, he but last week Commons speaker John Bercow claimed there was ‘no obvious means’ of allowing the MP to vote in the plans.

The council put forward an alternate proposal to merge the Bournemouth and Poole councils which would leave Christchurch to continue operating as a two-tier authority, but Brokenshire said the proposals were “wholly inconsistent” with plans to which the remaining seven councils have agreed to.

The government went on to say that due to the challenge being submitted nine weeks after the original implementation period on 29 March, it was “an unacceptable way of seeking belatedly to mount a challenge to a proposal, despite its powerful support by most of the other authorities in Dorset.”

Under the plans, Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch would merge into one authority, with a second council formed from East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, Weymouth & Portland and West Dorset.

The letter concluded: “The secretary of state does not agree to withdraw the draft regulations, as requested in your letter, and considers that the proposed claim is not arguable.”

Orders to begin the creation of the unitary councils in Dorset are expected to be provided to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 4 June, and the final document is due to be laid before parliament on 17 July.

The council is now considering the response from government and could still issue High Court proceedings to request a Judicial Review be heard. The legal proceedings are running alongside the work to implement the reorganisation and even if the council decides to proceed with the legal proceedings this work will continue.

Cllr David Flagg, Leader of the Council, Christchurch Borough Council, said: “We have received a response to our pre-action protocol.

 "Our legal team is now considering the contents of the letter and once we receive their advice we will consider our position moving forward.”

The plans for the new council structure would replace the current nine Dorset councils with two authorities and could save up to £108m over six years.

 

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