Dorset councils merger plan 'an attack on democracy'

Dorset coastline
Image caption Proposals include the possible merger of councils in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset

Plans to reorganise local government in Dorset in a bid to save cash are an "attack against democracy", an MP has claimed.

Chief executives from all nine councils in the county presented four shake-up options at a meeting on Thursday night.

Proposals include the possible merger of Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset.

Christchurch MP Chris Chope said merger plans would be "suicide" for residents.

Dorset's councils said they received £142m less per year in government funding now than in 2010-11, and needed to cut spending by £200m a year by 2019-20, with further cuts of £30.4m estimated by 2025.

Anthony Alford, leader of West Dorset District Council and vice-chairman of the Dorset Leaders' Growth Board, said considering change was "essential" in order to reduce costs "and ensure councils are sustainable for the future".

'Built on sand'

Other options being considered include a smaller conurbation unitary authority excluding East Dorset, or a single merger of Bournemouth and Poole.

The fourth option is to retain all nine councils.

There would also be a 20-year plan to harmonise council tax rates, with many residents facing the maximum rise permitted - 3.99% increases for 20 years in a row.

Councillors from across the political divide have said there should be a referendum.

Mr Chope said local residents wanted a local council.

"Why would any long-established borough and district councils, with democratic status, want to commit suicide on behalf of their residents?" he asked.

"The plans are an attack against democracy in Dorset."

He added: "The nine council leaders are not speaking on behalf of their councils - it's not been agreed with the councils - so the consultation is built on sand."

Christchurch Borough Council has not yet responded to the comments made by Mr Chope.

An eight-week public consultation begins on Tuesday.

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