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Dorset council merger stalled by legal bid as Javid accused of acting ‘beyond his powers’

Plans to merge local authorities in Dorset have been thrown into question after a new legal bid was launched by Christchurch Borough Council.

The merger, which would remove the nine councils currently operating and replace them with two unitary authorities by May next year, was green-lighted by the then communities secretary Sajid Javid in February.

In January the council put forward an alternative proposal that would put Bournemouth and Poole into a unitary authority whilst Christchurch would remain in the current two-tier system, but this was not supported by Whitehall.

And now, Christchurch, the only local council to oppose the move, outlined plans for legal action that would halt the planned merger with Bournemouth and Poole – as board papers from April had predicted.

It has also written to the communities secretary arguing his department has “acted beyond its powers” in drafting legislation to implement the local government shake-up in Dorset. The letter states that Christchurch now intends to seek a judicial review.

Cllr David Flagg, leader of Christchurch Borough Council, said: “We have asked him to withdraw the regulations immediately.

“We await a response and depending on the outcome the council will consider its position. We remain committed members of the Joint Committee and continue to work with other councils to progress work towards the new councils.”

While the challenge was made to the government specifically, all other councils involved are legally considered ‘interested parties.’ Local papers reported that all of the authorities involved are urgently seeking legal advice.

When locals were informed of the plans to merge the authorities in February, Christchurch councillor Trish Jamieson said the authority was disappointed with the government’s decision, especially considering that the borough council had previously put forward an alternative solution. In local a poll, the local authority had also found that 84% of residents did not support the merger plans.

Speaking after the announcement of merger plans, Javid said: “I am satisfied that these new councils are likely to improve local government and service delivery in their areas, generating savings, increasing financial resilience, facilitating a more strategic and holistic approach to planning and housing challenges, and sustaining good local services.”


Image credit: Petej, iStock images

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