RESPONDING TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONSULTATION
Why Does it Matter?
The consultation is closed now, so the comments below are just to remind you of that the options were. There has been much criticism of the questionnaire, particularly that Option 1, to leave it as it is, could not actually be chosen – it was not even on the list. Instead, the first ‘choice’ was actually something like, ‘Do we want the Council to reduce administrative expenditure?’ There is, of course, only one answer to that!
Like many people, I want to see Christchurch stay a very special place. There are those who say that things can’t stay the same, but like many people I look at Bournemouth and see what’s happened there. I don’t want to see Christchurch become just another suburb of Bournemouth like Southbourne or Tuckton.
Ideally I would like to see no change, but the consultation document skated over this option. It finds only one thing to say in its favour, but a lot of things against. Likewise, when it talked about setting up new Unitary Councils it was about how much money could be saved but not what would be wrong – particularly with option 2(b).
I was at a Borough Council meeting when Cllr Nottage was asked questions about this. He kept saying that people would be confused by talk about Greater Bournemouth, but as another Councillor pointed out, in the new setup 49% of the Councillors would come from Bournemouth –so it would inevitably be dominated by the interests of what is now Bournemouth.
So what does this mean for us in Christchurch? Well for a start, the financial savings at best would be about £1.50 a week – and if Christchurch had a Town Council to give us at least some say, however slight, in our own affairs then the saving would fall to about 42½p per week. So we were being asked to give up our independence for very little saving.
We would give up control over building. A lot of people think that the Council allows most development, especially in Highcliffe, but actually they are following government policy and the local plan introduced in 2014. This local plan does prevent development in certain areas, protects our green belt, and limits the type of development that can be built: no blocks of flats over three storeys for example.
Bournemouth Borough Council is desperate for housing space. There aren’t any undeveloped areas left in the Bournemouth Borough District, but Christchurch has lots of open space: how many high-density blocks could be fitted in Roeshot Hill, for example, or east of Burton or south of the airport? Incidentally, that would be another prize for Bournemouth: think of the business rates on all the businesses at the airport, let alone the airport’s own rates.
Housing is another factor. At the moment, Christchurch operates, after a long fight, Christchurch homes for Christchurch people. Christchurch’s Chief Executive is reported to have said that that isn’t a cause for concern, because after the takeover Christchurch social housing residents would have access to Bournemouth and Poole’s housing stock. This is true, but Bournemouth and Poole’s tenants would also have access to our housing stock; and there are more of them. I also suspect that most movement would be from Bournemouth to Christchurch, rather than the other way round.
So if you didn’t want to see any change, you had to say so on the form. But it was not easy. On page 1 you would first have had to tick the second-to-the-last box on the right – Strongly oppose the suggestion that 9 councils should be replaced by 2.
Regarding the other options. Option 2(a) is not going to happen – East Dorset have reportedly told their Leader that he mustn’t go in with Bournemouth under any circumstances. That leaves 2(b) and 2(c). Option 2(b) is the Greater Bournemouth option – choosing this meant you wanted to see Christchurch merged with Bournemouth. Note that if you chose the neutral option, it would be counted as a preference for Bournemouth.
Option 2(c) is a different story. That means joining towns of a similar size to ourselves in a similar, but bigger, partnership within other similar-sized towns and districts in Dorset. No one town can dominate. The Councillors working on this option have promised that it really will be double devolution – they want the towns and parishes of Dorset to be the building blocks of a new Shire Authority, not just the County Council writ large – as happened in Wiltshire, for example. Under this scheme, Christchurch would keep its Charter Mayor, have its own truly local representation, and would probably keep much control over planning and regain control of highways. The savings here would come from merging officer structures, as has already been done with East Dorset. So I chose Option 2(c). This is my own opinion, but in the end it was your decision.