William Eichler 23 March 2017

Christchurch to hold referendum on Dorset’s local gov ‘overhaul’

Christchurch councillors have voted in support of a referendum on plans to create two new unitary authorities in Dorset after receiving ‘mixed results’ from previous consultations.

At an Extraordinary Full Council meeting on Tuesday Christchurch Borough councillors voted 13 – 9 in favour of conducting a referendum to clarify the position of their residents on local government reorganisation.

Dorset councils are considering an overhaul of their local government arrangements after a financial review suggested they could collectively save £108m over six years by reducing the number of authorities.

The plan, which will see the county’s nine councils replaced by two new unitary authorities, has the backing of six councils, which have asked secretary of state Sajid Javid to consider going ahead with the reorganisation.

A consultation last year, which received 17,000 responses out of a population of 765,700, found almost three-quarters supported the reforms.

However, Christchurch residents gave mixed responses. A household survey showed support for the reorganisation, whereas an open survey suggested opposition.

The council has agreed the referendum would be carried out by a postal ballot at the cost of £50,000 after the chief finance officer Ian Milner advised the cost of using polling methods — £75,000 — would not be a good use of council funds.

‘Holding a referendum will allow us to find out if residents are for or against being part of a unitary authority with Bournemouth and Poole and once we have this information we can decide the best way forward,’ said Cllr David Flagg, acting leader of Christchurch Borough Council.

‘Although not legally binding, the result of the referendum could be incorporated within representation to the secretary of state.

‘If residents do not support local government reorganisation we will work on alternative options for the secretary of state to consider.

‘However, if the results show support for unitary councils in Dorset then members will have to look at our position to ensure we represent the views of our residents.’

The date of the referendum and the wording of the question will be agreed by councillors at a Full Council meeting on 18 April.

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