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Christchurch councillors split over need to contribute £420,000 towards unwanted merger costs

Christchurch Borough Council, the local authority that had been fighting tooth and nail against a planned government shake-up in Dorset, will have to decide whether to contribute more than £420,000 from unallocated reserves to the very reform they battled against.

In what one councillor called a “slap in the face of residents,” the local authority’s resources committee heard in its last meeting that it will have to contribute hundreds of thousands towards the cost of the local government review (LGR) programme, on top of the £72,320 it has already dished out.

However, this falls short of what proportionally larger councils in the region will have to set aside in the hopes of establishing a unitary council in the region. Bournemouth, which represents almost half of the region’s population, will have to contribute more than £3m this year and over £1m in 2019-20.

Christchurch Borough and Dorset County councils both represent 6.23% of the population in the region, whilst Poole, the fourth local authority to join the unitary, represents 38.20%.

In board papers for the resource committee, Christchurch warned that if sufficient funding is not available, the LGR programme “may stall and affect the creation of the new BCP [Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole] Council.”

While it doesn’t know what its contribution will have to be next year, it confirmed that it had enough reserves to fulfil the request this year.

The recommendation will now be put to the Full Council during a meeting next week.

According to the Bournemouth Echo, councillors were split over the motion at the resources meeting. One official, Cllr Colin Bungey, called the move “insult to injury” and “another slap in the face for the residents of Christchurch,” many of whom didn’t want to proceed with the reform in the first place – despite central government support for the proposal.

But the mayor of Christchurch, Cllr Lesley Dedman, supported it. “Since we have been forced into it we have to make sure it is funded properly so it has the chance to do the job it intended to do,” she noted, according to local reports.

Christchurch’s attempt to block the merger ended up in the High Court and Court of Appeal earlier this year, but was eventually brought to a close in August when the authority accepted legal defeat.


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