The Town Councils

Thanks to Brian Case, from the BHLiving site, for sending the link to this article. For convenience, with permission the text is reproduced below. I have not enabled comments on this article, as you can easily post on the original (link above). There are already some strong responses!

The famous view of Christchurch.
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THE NEW CHRISTCHURCH TOWN COUNCIL
Many Christchurch residents unaware of the higher council tax bills to come

The main idea behind the creation of the new BCP Authority is to deliver services more easily and cost effectively through greater collaboration and pooling of resources in our conurbation. However there is growing concern that many Christchurch residents are unaware of a new Town Council for Christchurch set to run in addition to the newly formed unitary authority, potentially costing Christchurch households an extra £25-£30 per year, with one source quoting a figure as much as £120 extra per year per dwelling. The final figure will be decided upon shortly.

Following last year’s decision by central government to allow the new joint Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council to be formed, Christchurch Borough Council challenged the decision through the high court, but the challenge was later dismissed. A public consultation process was then undertaken by Christchurch Borough Council to gauge public opinion on Christchurch having it’s own Town Council.

Following the public consultation, it has now been agreed that two new town councils will be formed, one called Christchurch Town Council and another called Highcliffe and Walkford Neighbourhood Council. These will be created in addition to the current parish councils of Hurn and Burton.

A BH Living investigation however, has discovered that many residents are totally unaware of the consultation that has taken place. More worryingly, they are unaware it will cost them an additional precept on their council tax bill. Although there is support among residents for a new town council, many are also questioning the need for an extra layer of administration and decision-making when so much has been spent setting up a new BCP Unitary Authority – partly designed to cut bureaucracy and at the same time make potential savings for council tax payers in the long term.

The Christchurch Borough Council ‘Local governance review’ public consultation began on the 25 May 2018 and ran through until Midnight on Friday 20 July 2018. Christchurch Borough Council told us that notices of the review were posted on the “Dorset for You” website as well as on the Councils Social Media feeds. Our research showed that it was posted on the Dorset for You website on 28 May and posted on Twitter on 29 May, 12 June, 20 June, 4 July and 17 July, We found no notice of it on the councils Community Links – Christchurch and East Dorset Councils Facebook page and no evidence of any significant printed communications to make local residents aware. The only exception we found were notices placed in the library and council offices, which left many residents who may have wanted to contribute to the consultation process completely unaware of its existence.

There was no mention of the consultation in any printed council communications including Christchurch Courier, the council’s own resident’s magazine delivered to all homes in Christchurch three times each year. It could be argued however that the timing of the ‘Local Governance Review’ meant that the review started too late to make it into the spring edition of their magazine (published March 2018) and when their summer edition was published in July 2018 the Local Governance Review had just ended. The timing may well have been a factor in the relatively low volume of responses the council received to the review. The official council figures state that they received 225 responses to their review. Taken as a percentage of the Christchurch Population of 47,800 residents (2011 census) the council based their decision to create two new town councils on the views of just 0.4% (less than half of one percent) of the population it represents.

In contrast, when the council were seeking the views of residents in the recent referendum to canvas opinion on local residents about the potential council merger, a paper with supporting information was sent to every home in Christchurch. It leaves many people asking why the council failed to properly inform and canvas opinion on their proposals to form a Town Council, especially as it is now costing local council tax payers more money to support it.

Despite, what some would deem as a low return of responses to the review, the creation of the two new town councils is seen by many as a benefit to the town and an additional layer of accountability to the new BCP council, particularly when it comes to planning, Cllr Lesley Dedman (Con – West Highcliffe) told us: “the benefit of having a Parish Council is that it is a body which has a statutory right to advise and be listened to by the superior council, which is especially important on matters like planning. Christchurch Borough Council was an independent planning authority, but that role will now be taken by the Unitary Council which will span Bournemouth and Poole as well as our area. It is going to be essential for the Councillors on the Unitary Planning Committee to inform their decisions on planning in Christchurch, Highcliffe, Hurn and Burton by guidance from the parish councillors. The new parishes will have a strong role to play in this and other local matters.’

Another area where many see the benefit is the retention of a local Mayor, Cllr Bernie Davis (Con – Purewell & Stanpit) said “A town council is needed for the Mayoralty and other historic civic duties to continue” However another councillor who didn’t wish to be named disputed this theory, citing Poole and Bournemouth who could both be retaining their mayor at very little extra cost to local tax payers.

Addressing our concern that local tax payers will be paying more, despite an assurance that Christchurch Council Tax payers will see no increase for 7 years on their basic council tax, Cllr. Davis went on to say “The new town council WILL cost local ratepayers more in council tax by way of a further precept. This is despite the current council tax for Christchurch residents being ‘frozen’ for a period of 7 years in order that harmonisation with Bournemouth and Poole ratepayers takes place

The point regarding whether or not local council tax payers will pay more for a Town Council does undoubtedly raise concerns from many about why this extra cost doesn’t appear to be mentioned in any of the public consultation documents and does not feature in any of the questions asked during the Local Governance Review.

Putting aside the existing parish councils of Hurn and Burton, the questions asked with particular relevance to both the proposed Christchurch Town Council and the proposed Highcliffe & Walkford neighbourhood council were:

  1. Should a new parish of Christchurch be created?
  2. Do you agree with the boundary of the new parish?
  3. Do you agree with the warding of the new parish?
  4. Do you agree with the style of the new parish being a Town Council?
  5. Do you agree with the overall number of councillors for the new parish?
  6. Do you agree with the number of councillors per ward for the new parish?
  7. Do you agree with the names of the parish wards?
  8. Do you agree with the name of the new parish council being ‘Christchurch Town Council’?

The question missing from the consultation and which has subsequently angered many Christchurch residents appears to be: “Are you happy to pay an additional precept on your council tax bill to pay for the new town council?”

Based on the new evidence we have obtained, it appears that there is considerable opposition to a new Town Council costing local Christchurch tax-payers more money.

Recently we asked opinion on the proposed new Town Councils on BH Living’s own Social Media channels and although we received both positive and negative comments, by far the majority of comments were unfavourable.

‘JM’ said “No, we are going through enough problems at the moment with the merger so everything should come under their umbrella, it just feels like Cllrs just want to keep their jobs”, another person ‘MMC’ said, “I cannot understand why the cost will be so high

‘NW’ said: “I knew nothing of this Town Council”, they went on to say, “As for the Mayor and Town Council staff, again this should all come from a central point, otherwise it makes a mockery of the new merger

Some were in favour, ‘AWY’ said, “on the surface it seems a reasonable idea, but will this additional tier have any power?”

What do you think? Do you think the consultation process could have been undertaken more openly? Do you think the residents were properly consulted before the decision was taken? Perhaps you think the Town Council will benefit the town of Christchurch? Or do you think it’s a white Elephant in the making?

Share your opinions and comment below, or if you wish to write to the editor you can email editor@bhliving.co.uk and remember, we want to hear from all residents in all three towns, maybe some in Bournemouth and Poole wish that they could have new Town Councils too?

By: Brian Case January 2019

The town is not just the Priory!
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