Arson on the Hill; Council Tax scam; DWP and a criminal offence

April 2015

Come and meet us on Thursday 23rd April
That’s the date of our next public meeting – 7.30pm Hall on the Hill

We used to meet in February but several of you suggested that April would be better if only for milder weather. In the days before computers February was chosen because with little contact between residents and those running the Association it was an early opportunity to check that finances were satisfactory and to learn of progress made in the previous year.

Today we communicate with the majority of you by e-mail whilst our accounts are updated monthly on the website which also carries full details of everything we are involved in. However, when we picked Thursday 23rd April we forgot that an election is due May 7th! As a result nobody from bodies like DCC, CBC, the police, etc. would agree to give a presentation.

Necessity is the mother of invention and so we have branched out in a completely new direction. Local author and historian Steve Roberts will give a presentation on The History of Christchurch. Who had barracks in Barrack Road? Why was Marie Curie in Christchurch? It’s a very entertaining and humorous presentation from which we predict even seasoned locals will learn.

Your local Councillors will be there to answer questions on local matters as well as the members of the WCRA Committee. Why not come along and join in the fun!
Arson on St Catherine’s Hill

We have “before and after” pictures on the website – – click on “latest updates”. We asked CBC Officer Robin Harley to summarise the situation. Here is his report in full:

During the afternoon of Tuesday 31 March, following a largely dry period of weather there were three separate fires on St Catherine’s Hill and Town Common. Total area burnt is in the region of 75 hectares /180 acres. The situation was worsened by strong winds and a very low relative humidity leading to very dry conditions, which meant a rapid spread and large flames and fires in different locations which were hard to get between and meant dividing the fire-fighting resource.

Impacts on Wildlife
The fire will have had a devastating and lasting impact upon wildlife, particularly due to the sheer scale. Although the burn does not appear to have penetrated far into the ground over large parts of the damaged area, most above ground woody shrubs were destroyed, leaving a blackened and barren landscape which is largely uninhabitable. There would have been immediate death of small and slow moving above-ground wildlife and in deeper burn areas, below-ground wildlife as well. Not many dead reptiles have been found but all six native species have perished.

Most reptiles, such as sand lizards will remain within a home range, even after the fire. The problem with this is that they will then find it hard to find food and have no cover to hide from predators (and stand out against the black background). Since the fire and over the next few weeks, ARC staff will be attending the burn area in suitable weather conditions to catch and relocate reptiles into unburnt areas. They have already had huge support from local residents and people further afield to help with this process and are extremely grateful for the support.

Opportunities for bird breeding will also be hugely impacted, due to lack of structure and cover for nesting, lack of food items and insufficient remaining territory. It is likely that birds will also initially overpopulate unburnt areas. Migratory species such as nightjar will probably occupy unburnt areas but may not successfully raise young in the first few years. Populations of key species will be monitored this year by RSPB as part of a wider survey and declines are to be expected.

It is too early to measure the impact on insects and other invertebrates. Anything living on the heather, including eggs and larvae such as caterpillars, will of course be lost. There will be some repopulation from adjacent areas but this will happen gradually as the vegetation recovers.

Vegetation recovery will be subject to lots of factors and is likely to be patchy, depending on depth of burn and local conditions. Visually you would expect some vegetation (e.g. grasses) to come back this year and something looking like heathland within five years in light burn areas and up to fifteen years where there was deep burning. Burning will favour some species over others and you would expect an overall decline in diversity in the short term. Bare areas will be potentially vulnerable to erosion, until vegetation recovers, although in most areas there is still rooted material remaining to bind the soil. The time of the fire in spring may mean a lesser effect than a summer fire when conditions and soils would have been drier and the burn deeper.

Impacts on People
Fortunately no one was injured during the fire and although it came close to residences on Dudmoor Lane, there was no direct impact on property. These are of course the first priorities for the fire service. Although the fire did creep up the eastern flanks of the hill towards the bridleway, it appeared to be kept in check by the winds blowing over the ridge.

Recent clearance of rhododendron (which is moderately flammable) under the pine stands on the eastern flanks is likely to have helped prevent the fire accessing the tree canopy on top of the hill. Had this happened, the impacts could have been much greater.

Impacts are likely to be more visual and emotional, particularly upon site users, with a slow recovery from black vegetation to green over the next five years and beyond. The reduction in wildlife will be apparent to both local residents and site users. No doubt to see so much of the site destroyed is a depressing and distressing experience for many and unfortunately will remain so until the area has recovered.

However, the fire has galvanised community support for the area, particularly amongst local residents, some of whom helped on the day of the fire and have since been involved where they can. This has been very heartening and one positive thing that has come out of the fire.

The land managers, police and fire service will of course at some point review what happened on the day and hold discussions about lessons learned and any actions that could help reduce future occurrences. Any viable opportunities to accelerate the recovery will also be considered.

Our thanks go to Robin for making the effort to do that at such a difficult time and to the fire fighters who did such a remarkable job. Also to those of you who offered to contribute to a reward. Councillor Sue Spittle is in touch with the police and we await developments on that front.

CBC-EDDC Win Funding
The Christchurch and East Dorset Partnership has been successful in its bid to the Local Government Association for £10,000 to implement a new computer system. The money will be used to purchase a software system which customers can access to apply for and pay for services online in a single transaction.

Taking the example of a beach hut licence, at the moment, although an application form is available on the councils’ website, a customer has to download it, complete it by hand and post it with a cheque to the council where an officer enters the information onto the computer. Replacing this largely manual process with an entirely online version will save time and resources for customers and council officers alike – which helps to keep the level of Council Tax down.
Yet More Fraud
Residents are warned to beware of calls from an organisation claiming to be from the council offering to reduce their Council Tax - for a fee usually quoted as £55. These calls are not from, or authorised by, any council.

Paul Hudson, Partnership Manager at the Stour Valley & Poole Partnership, which administers Council Tax for Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset and Poole councils, said: “Residents should be aware that these calls do not come from the council and if people are looking to challenge their council tax they can contact the government’s Valuation Office Agency for free.”

For details of how to challenge the Council Tax band into which a property falls, you should go to or call 0300 0501 501.

The council will only ask for people’s bank account details over the phone to make or arrange payment of council tax. If someone from a council visits a resident they will always carry an identity card. If the person visited is concerned, they should call the council to confirm the identity of the visitor. A genuine caller will be happy to wait outside while this is done.
Reporting Lost Property to the Police

Dorset Police have reviewed the way in which lost property is reported.
Report My Loss - - is a website which allows the public to report lost property quickly and easily without the need to telephone or visit a local police station.

The information provided in any loss report is viewable by police forces nationally.
Members of the public reporting lost property will be asked to complete an online form. A lost property reference number will then be issued for use when making an insurance claim.

News from the Hospital

Work on the 80 bed care home and the 35 senior living apartments should start this month. Work is expected to be complete by the summer of 2016, creating around 100 jobs with benefits for the local economy. The perimeter road around the front of the hospital has been realigned so that vehicles can drive both ways. Therapies will move to a fully refurbished area in May 2015 and Outpatients is due to move back to its former home in July 2015 once refurbishment is complete

Time to Vote
Poll cards have been sent to everyone in Christchurch and East Dorset who is entitled to vote at the upcoming elections on Thursday 7th May 2015.  Due to changes in legislation last year there was no annual canvass so anyone who has moved or has not yet received a poll card may not be registered.

Residents can still apply to register to vote for these elections up until 20 April 2015 by going online to A resident of Christchurch or East Dorset who does not have access to the internet can call the Elections Office on 01202 795 078 to be sent a form.  Please note that due to these legislative changes for registration people now also need to provide their date of birth and National Insurance Number when applying and they should make sure they have this to hand.
Anyone unable to attend their polling station on 7 May for any reason, such as work, holiday etc, can apply for a postal or proxy vote.  The deadline for completed applications for a postal vote is 5pm on Tuesday 21 April 2015.  The deadline for a completed proxy application, so another person can vote on behalf of the registered person, is 5pm on Tuesday 28 April 2015.

Forms can be downloaded at for a postal or proxy vote but the application cannot be completed online as a signature is required.  Anyone without access to the internet can call the Elections Office who will send you out a form.
The Dorset Waste Partnership (DWP)
Many of you will recall our ultimately successful fight to stop DCC building a huge million-pound waste plant at Hurn. Some of the people we wrestled with ended up working for DWP.

Our arguments against the plant came under two headings - (a) no financial justification because recycling rates could be raised from the then level of 40% to over 60% and (b) what we perceived as a serious lack of managerial skills and in particular commercial skills deployed under commercial pressure – something we knew more about than many DCC Officers.

On the website and click on “latest changes” you will find a damming report from the Monitoring Officer (internal auditor) into goings on at DWP.
The report arises from the need for the Monitoring Officer to report in circumstances where he becomes aware of any contravention by the Council of any enactment or rule of law.

The report addresses a failure to comply with legal requirements for contracts to be exposed to competition. These requirements are designed to ensure not only that there is transparency in buying decisions and a free market in goods and services but also to ensure that local authorities obtain value for money in their procurement activity.
A recent audit investigated how the DWP went from purchasing vehicles to leasing them instead. The audit report concludes by identifying serious weaknesses in the Financial Management processes operating at DWP and a lack of controls in place around the hiring vehicles.
What has emerged is that vehicle hire business has been awarded to two contractors without any compliant tendering process. One company has been awarded business with an aggregated value of some £765,000 and the other has been awarded business with an aggregated value of some £808,000.
In addition to the unlawful direct award of vehicle hire business it has also emerged that the way in which one specific contract for consultancy services was awarded also amounted to an unlawful direct award.
Most recently it has emerged that upwards of 28 hire vehicles have been operated without notification of insurance details to the Motor Insurers Information Centre. Failure to notify is a criminal offence.
We are due to meet CBC-EDDC Executives at the end of April and will discuss this situation with them
New System for Bulk Waste
From Tuesday 7 April, a new bulky waste collection service will be provided by local charity, Dorset Reclaim. They will collect big items like sofas, TVs and beds, which they supply to families on modest incomes. If items are in good condition and can be reused, they may be collected for free.

Find out more and book a bulky waste collection.

A338 - Weekend Works

DCC are currently planning three weekend lane closures on the A338 in April and May. Lane closures will start at 8pm Friday – stay in place all day Saturday and all day Sunday – and reopen 6am Monday morning on Friday 24 April to Monday 27 April and on Friday 15 May to Monday 18 May plus a reserve date from Friday 5 June to Monday 8 June, in case of bad weather etc.

These restrictions will allow the excavation of strips of current road material, which will be tested to help to determine what mix of material will be used to rebuild the road. Only one carriageway will be affected at a time. To keep up to date with progress visit the project blog

These trials are extremely important as they will allow DCC to test the quality and quantity of the existing materials and finalise the design and recycling proposals.
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