‘Historic day’ for Dorset as Javid green-lights council merger

Communities and housing secretary Sajid Javid has officially given the green light to longstanding plans for a major merger of Dorset’s nine councils.

In a ministerial statement, the secretary of state announced that he had decided to implement the plan, following on from comments in December where he indicated that he was “minded to” follow up on the proposals.

Subject to parliamentary approval, the plans will see two large unitary authorities created to replace the mix of county, district and borough councils that currently operate in the area.

There had initially been disputes about the merger, specifically from Purbeck and East Dorset councils, which have both now offered their agreement. But Christchurch Borough Council, which threatened to sue the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) over the merger earlier this year, is still in opposition.

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

“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,” Javid commented.

“I am also satisfied that across Dorset as a whole there is a good deal of local support for these new councils, and that the area of each council is a credible geography.”

Most of the councils involved in the merger are supportive of the plans, with the leaders of all except Christchurch coming together to celebrate a “historic day.”

“Now we have received this decision, we can collectively focus our efforts, through the established Joint Committees, on creating two brand new councils,” the statement said.

“This will be a challenge but we will work hard to ensure our communities receive the services they expect and deserve.”

Initially put forward under the Future Dorset proposal, the plans would see the authorities jointly save around £100m because of fewer overheads and savings from combining services.

Christchurch deputy leader, Cllr Trish Jamieson, said: “We are disappointed that the secretary of state has announced his final decision to approve local government reorganisation in Dorset.

“This decision comes despite Christchurch Borough Council putting forward an alternative to the Future Dorset submission and 84% of Christchurch residents who voted in the local poll not supporting the proposal for Christchurch to become part of a unitary council with Bournemouth and Poole councils.”

Christchurch has called an extraordinary full council meeting to discuss its position and decided how to move forward.

Top image: Lauren Hurley PA Archive

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