15 October: Public Meeting, Greystones, Highcliffe
This is not a complete report of a busy ninety minutes, just a few notes which particularly struck me. If you would like anything added or changed, email me for factual errors, or add a comment to put forward your opinion.
Thanks to Chris Chope MP, Cllr John Lofts (Highcliffe Ward) and Cllr David Jones (Burton, and County Council) for giving up their time to speak and answer questions. Unfortunately our other Highcliffe Councillor, Vicky Hallam, did not attend. Thanks particularly to Cllr Lofts, who came to talk to us even though it was his birthday! The meeting was crowded – the picture above shows Cllr Jones in the distance preparing to start.
The problems that Councils across the country are having were briefly described. In 2010 the coalition government tightened the funding screw, and in another four years any significant funding will be stopping completely. Things therefore have to change.
The attendance at this meeting showed the concern that Highcliffe residents, and residents throughout Dorset, have, and justifiably so. Christchurch and East Dorset are actually the best-resourced councils in the County, whereas others, notably Bournemouth and Poole, have a deficit. Therefore we would suffer in the rationalisation of Council Tax. Christchurch increased theirs in the past, whereas the others refused to, so causing the deficit and a less adequate provision of services. The principle of Christchurch Housing for Christchurch People would disappear: there would be no chance at all of the others sticking to that. It is true that our residents would have access to Bournemouth and Poole’s housing provision, but they and their greater population would also be able to use ours. Planning would be out of local control: currently there is a limit of three storeys on development; with a merger with Poole and Bournemouth ten-story blocks of flats like theirs might even appear!
To some extent we already work together. for example, Tricuro provides social care across the boroughs, delivered by the same staff across the locations.
There is a danger of going too far with this merger. The website here is called Keep Christchurch Special, and that is very important to us. We have the largest community of elderly people in Europe, and on the whole we look after reach other. If we merge with Bournemouth and Poole that will be diluted. Currently we can contact our local Councillors if there is a problem, but that would not be as easy if there were fewer of them and they are more distant and unfamiliar with the area. We would be subsumed by bigger councils, lose our sense of place, possibly our Mayor, and much of our history, which goes back over 900 years, would become even more remote.
On the whole the meeting favoured Option 1 on the Questionnaire. This could leave Christchurch as a discrete Council which, despite what you may have heard, would actually be possible. 2c is also a good choice, keeping the semi-rural nature of Christchurch separate from the big towns. There were criticism of the design of the form, and that Option 1 does not seem to be there. So if, say, 2c was chosen, then you could write on the last page that you actually prefer Option 1.
Thanks so much to Chris Chope MP, Cllr John Lofts and Cllr David Jones for speaking, to other Councillors who attended, the public for coming, and last – but not least – Freda Schaffer, Representative of Highcliffe Community Association, and Greystones House for their organisation.
21 September: Yesterday’s Council Meeting
Report from Facebook by Cllr DC Jones:
‘An excellent Council meeting at Christchurch tonight. The resolution, proposed by myself and Cllr Dedman, as passed has committed the Council to (a) sending out the results of the Consultation to all Christchurch Councillors as soon as it is received by anyone on the Council, (b) to holding a special meeting within seven days to discuss that report, and (c) mandating the Leader to carry out the Council’s wishes in the negotiations with other Leaders.
‘This will ensure that Chrischurch’s future is decided in the light of public scrutiny and that the recommendation is not presented to the Council in January as a fait accompli.
‘The opportunity was also taken to express the concerns which many members of the public have outlined to Councillors that the information in the Consultation Document is perhaps less than completely impartial and that the questionnaire as set out makes it difficult to express a preference for Option 1.
Above – Cllr DC Jones (left) talking to residents in Highcliffe that afternoon
20 September: Have Your Say in Highcliffe
This took place for several hours during Tuesday. It was outside Tesco’s, and was an opportunity for the public to talk about the proposals. Questions were answered by several councillors and professionals, and the Chief Executive of Dorset County Council, Debbie Ward.
A display showed the various options:
It was also possible to choose the three things which were most important to them, bu putting buttons into three boxes. The picture below shows Council Leader Ray Nottage talking to a member of the public.
The picture below shows the choices and decisions we need to think about before filling in the questionnaire:
Finally a view of a small part of the occasion. it was well attended, with a steady stream of people throughout the time:
17 September: Meeting at Twynham School about the Merger
The meeting took place today. It was not as expected: Sue Bungey, Acting Chairman of the Christchurch Citizens’ Association, began by saying that unfortunately the Council Leader, Ray Nottage, and his Deputy, Clare Bath, had refused to come. This was met with some consternation and displeasure, rather than surprise, from the approximately 150-strong audience. The picture below shows the hall almost full a few minutes before the start, and Cllr Colin Bungey and our MP, Chris Chope. Thanks so much to them for taking the afternoon to attend. It was good to have them here, and they answered the many questions from the audience frankly and honestly. There was warm applause at the end of the meeting. Thanks also to Sue Bungey, who kept control and was able to let those who wished to ask their questions. Note that Councillors were present, but questions were not allowed from them: it was purely for the public. Last but not least, thanks so much to Twynham School for the use of their facilities.
Here are a few points which struck me during the meeting, which ended at 4.30. I was unable to make a full report through lack of shorthand and expertise, but the press were there so there may be a more professional one later!
- The consultation lasts until the week of 25 October, so there is not much time. It is essential that as many as possible complete the questionnaire, which is available at the Council Offices, from Libraries, or online HERE. Please encourage as many people as possible to complete it.
- This will mark the biggest change to the Borough in around 1000 years.
- Of a total of 20,000 residents, only 1600 have been sent the postal form: they were chosen randomly from the electoral roll.
- Colin Bungey, a Councillor for over thirty years, was applauded for saying that councillors were there to serve, not instruct. My own view of this is that it was an even greater pity that our two most senior Christchurch Councillors refused to come!
- It was pointed out that the decisions and procedures so far were made by just a few of the ‘inner circles’ and Chief Executives without all of the Councillors being involved. There is an extraordinary Council Meeting on Tuesday at 6pm (Council Offices) to go some way to address this problem, and the public are welcome – though will not be able to ask questions on this occasion.
- Christchurch has the healthiest budget in Dorset. It is in slight surplus whereas Bournemouth, for example, is in debt. See this recent article in the Echo (opens in a new window).
- if we become part of a larger authority (with Bournemouth, for example) we would have less control over planning. There is virtually no building space in Bournemouth, whereas Christchurch has much more. Further, building is permitted for three storeys only. Bournemouth favours high-rise – we could end up with tower blocks on the sea front! They would certainly return a deficit-reducing profit.
- Despite the fact that this questionnaire is needed quickly, no business plan will be available to see beforehand. It is apparently still being prepared. Surely this plan should be available to view before we complete the questionnaire?