|Meet the Airport Management
A reminder that the airport MD Paul Knight will be addressing our meeting on Thursday 22nd October at 7.30pm Hall on the Hill, Marlow Drive – please come along, say hello and join in the fun
Proposed Merger of CBC with Poole and Bournemouth to form a Unitary Authority
This is an important issue in a number of ways and we have given it extensive coverage in this Newsletter. It is an issue on which public opinion will be vital – and that means you and me. At the end of this section we will ask you to make your thoughts known. No matter what your views please help us and our local Councillors by telling us what you think.
In a Combined Authority existing Councils remain in place but join together to deliver services such as Transport. In a Unitary Authority a new Council is created which replaces the existing councils and could effectively create a new town – let’s call it Poolemouth.
Like many of you we learned of this proposal from the media. The following announcement appeared on the BBC Website:
A combined south-east Dorset super council could be formed by four local authorities in the region. The proposed alliance is between Bournemouth, Christchurch, East Dorset and Poole authorities. The single unitary authority would serve a combined population of about 487,000 people.
(WCRA Comment: that would make it about the same size as Cambridgeshire. An authority embracing all of Dorset would contain about 750,000 people and be similar in size to Norfolk and Hertfordshire. The largest populations are in Hampshire, Essex and Kent which all serve over one million people. For future reference, we shall refer to the four Council Leaders involved as the Gang of Four)
All four councils now need to formally agree the proposal by spring 2016. If agreed, the new council would be formed in April 2019.
(WCRA Comment: we’re not clear where this timetable comes from and it frankly looks unrealistic).
John Beesley, leader of Bournemouth Borough Council, said: "This is a huge opportunity. This geographical combination makes the most sense for local residents." Mr Beesley said the "vast majority" of council staff would still be needed regardless of how the authority was set up.
(WCRA Comment: that remark is highly suspect partly because there’s no evidence that he’s undertaken the necessary analysis to determine what makes most sense for us, he hasn’t consulted us, and partly because there’s little point doing it if overheads aren’t going to be cut).
For some time Central Government have been forcing Local Government to become more efficient by combining services, making greater use of technology, and so on. They would also like to see more local funding thereby reducing the level of central collection and redistribution of funds.
In November 2014 Dorset’s nine local authorities were awarded £755,000 by Central Government to explore new ways of working together. The leaders of the nine authorities – which include the Gang of Four – commissioned a review which came down in favour of creating a Dorset-wide Combined Authority. This proposal is being actively pursued across Dorset and was approved unanimously by CBC Resources Committee on 14th October 2014. It will now go before full CBC Council.
Thus we have two parallel schemes, a Combined Authority covering all nine Dorset Councils and a new Unitary Authority embracing only CBC, EDDC, Bournemouth and Poole to form Poolemouth.
Naturally we asked that CBC Leader Councillor Ray Nottage produce comment designed specifically for us as local residents. Strangely, that was refused. However, Councillor Robert Gould, Leader of DCC, was prepared to say something:
Many thanks for your email and I am not surprised this is causing interest in your area as it is across the county. The announcement was something of a surprise to us all although I had some prior notice.
(WCRA Comment: this indicates that The Gang of Four formed a cabal and acted without involving their colleagues – not the best way of tackling a difficult managerial problem)
You are quite right to highlight that the proposal would have a significant effect on the County Council and no work has yet been done to quantify the effect on our budgets of separating out such a significant chunk of our services. We would need to make any decisions on future arrangements based on a sound business case and this work has not yet been done.
(WCRA Comment: the fact that no business case has been agreed means that we must treat all statements telling us that Poolemouth is the right place for us with a high degree of scepticism – and we do anticipate receiving some future propaganda along those lines)
Bearing in mind that many of our public services are now delivered on a pan Dorset scale including Poole and Bournemouth, it seems to me a pan Dorset unitary is likely to be the best route to bring about efficiencies whilst retaining democratic control. It would also be likely to attract the best devolution deal from government. I would also wish to see any pan Dorset unitary include a "double devolution" to our towns and boroughs to enhance their civic identity.
Whatever emerges from any negotiations, there would certainly need to be proper public consultation and engagement. The County Council would ensure that any decision it took reflected this
(WCRA Comment: that last remark is very important. The Gang of Four has no electoral mandate to support their proposed formation of Poolemouth which means that we the residents must be given a full opportunity to have our say)
(CBC Councillor Colin Bungey – Leader of the Opposition – comment: A very interesting reply from the DCC Leader which seems to be along the lines of the Government’s preferred option of a combined authority across Dorset with each council retaining its individual status.
As far as I am aware this is the only option that has been put before Christchurch and East Dorset councillors for discussion and officers are supposed to have been tasked to look into this option and report back).
Debbie Ward, Chief Executive of DCC added:
A new unitary council for the east of the county would require the agreement of the county council as our services are involved. The shape and form is not yet clear as discussions between council leaders have a long way to go and at this point there is no business case for us to determine the best option. The county council will have to secure the best way forward for the whole county.
CBC Councillor Colin Bungey, Leader of the Opposition said:
Many will have read in the Daily Echo about the proposals once again surfacing that Christchurch join with the Bournemouth and Poole Authorities and this is of great concern to me.
I was a councillor when these proposals first surfaced when Unitary Authorities were all the rage and both Bournemouth and Poole rushed to become Unitary Authorities. At that time Christchurch residents made it quite clear that they wanted nothing to do with these authorities and would rather go it alone or go in with the New Forest District Council.
Both of these authorities have financial problems hence the increase of charges on so many of their services which begs the question why would Christchurch a debt free council with money in the bank wish to get involved with them?
(WCRA Comment: it’s reasonably well known that both Bournemouth and Poole could be in a better financial position. Also that some of their services, such as Education in Poole, leave something to be desired. It is not clear to us why Christchurch would wish to be absorbed into such a morass as a suburb of Poolemouth)
Bournemouth has also run short of development land so where would they build next?
There is however an alternative which the government are keen on which is for a Combined Authority which means that all the Borough and District Councils in Dorset work together in a similar way to Christchurch and East Dorset whilst retaining their own individual identities. The details of this have yet to be fleshed out and clarification from government may be required on some issues.
A major consideration to either of these ideas must be public consultation with residents. I am concerned that with what has been said in the media the Bournemouth and Poole option seems to be almost a done deal!! I am not sure under what authority as this has never been discussed by the Full Council. There must be public consultation on all of the options before any decision is made and which must be made by the Full Council. It is to be hoped that no Party Whip would be put in place on this extremely important issue for the People of Christchurch. I have also written to Cllr. Nottage and all members expressing my concerns on the matter and am still awaiting a reply.
This is one of those issues where we have to be careful that we represent the views of our members as best we can. We’ve drawn up the following position statement to guide us:
- WCRA accept reorganisation is inevitable but are not at this stage committed to any particular solution
- WCRA believe there are several potential solutions that need to be investigated involving both Combined Authorities and Unitary Authorities
- WCRA believe that each potential solution must be the subject of a full risk, cost and benefit analysis undertaken with all due diligence before any solution becomes the preferred solution
- WCRA believe it is vital to include within the debate the cost and risks of conversion to any new structure as well as the functioning of that structure and to contrast the overall effect of the proposed new structure with the costs, risks and benefits of maintaining the status quo
- WCRA believe that DCC and all of its subsidiary councils as well as Bournemouth and Poole must be included
- WCRA think it essential that the electorate is fully consulted, including those who are not computer literate, before any solution becomes the preferred solution and we will assist in that to the best of our ability
- WCRA believe that a timetable for reorganisation should only be produced once a preferred solution has been identified
- WCRA do not believe this to be a matter of party politics and therefore believe that Councillors should be allowed a free vote on all decisions related to the strategy
Changes in the structure of Local Government and the way in which its services are delivered are inevitable and to be welcomed if they improve cost effectiveness without degrading standards of service.
However, it is difficult for us to see how becoming a suburb of Poolemouth is in the best interest of Christchurch. To do so without any electoral mandate and without any mention of public consultation is distinctly undemocratic.
We desperately need to hear your opinion on any or all of the following questions:
- What is your reaction to the proposed merger with Bournemouth, Poole and East Dorset?
- Do you believe that the pan Dorset solution should be fully investigated?
- Do you think you have a right to be consulted before any proposal is accepted?
- Are you happy with the way WCRA intends to handle the issue?
If you prefer just reply in confidence to this Newsletter as you would any other e-mail. As an alternative, we’ve set up a blog on which you can add your comments. The easiest way to access it is via www.wcresidents.co.uk where you will find a link on the front page to ACRA Blog for Local Government Reorganisation. Then go to Have Your Say.
If your next door neighbour doesn’t receive these newsletters please take a moment to tell them what is going on. If they want to they can write to us at 7 Hurn Road, Christchurch, BH23 2RJ
Please help us by all means possible to gauge the opinions of our members by taking a moment to express your views
The Proposed New School at Marsh Lane
The following progress report was prepared by DCC Officer David Crudgington, Senior Project Manager, to whom our thanks.
The concept of a two-form entry single-storey building designed along 'Baseline' principles, as shown at the public information event held at the Hall on the Hill on 3rd July, remains the same.
To date we have received over 150 written responses following the event, expressing a variety of issues. These have all been studied and considered, and as a result the proposals now incorporate changes and improvements to those shown on 3rd July where possible.
The Planning Application is going to be submitted to the Dorset Planning Authority in the week commencing Monday 19 October.
Once they have registered it the Authority will fix bright green notices to the proposed site entrance in Marsh Lane &/or neighbouring lamp-posts, notifying the local community of how they can gain access to the Application documents, the timetable for submitting any comments on the proposals, and where to send these.
It will also advertise the Application in the local press, but so that everyone knows how to get access to this information, the project manager will forward the Application reference number, and the timetable and address for feedback, to WCRA for circulation.
The Planning Process
The Application will be heard by the Dorset Planning Authority's Committee at a date yet to be settled, but expected to be at some point in the first three months of 2016.
Because the proposed site sits within the Green Belt, if the Committee's decision is positive it will need to go to the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government for approval, before the building works can proceed.
Dorset County Council has agreed with Bournemouth Water the framework for the purchase of the land involved. The actual purchase will not take place until Planning Permission and the Secretary of State's approval have been granted.
The need for a new school for the young children of West Christchurch is unchanged. The deadline to open it is at the start of September 2017, and the Planning Application is a key stage within that programme. More information on the timescales involved will be included within the Planning Application.
Before and during construction
Before any construction works take place all the local residents who live on the routes to and from the proposed building site will be provided with information on how they will happen. Further details will follow in due course, following discussions with WCRA on the best way to carry this out.
These talks will involve the building contractor, and will include how information is passed on during the construction process as well.
It is not until a new development is actually up and running that any of us know exactly what will happen on a day-to-day basis, and in particular how traffic movements will change and adapt.
Consequently after the new school is opened how cars and delivery vehicles come to the school, their speeds, how and where they park, and how this affects bus movements, will all be monitored. Further improvements to the highways will be considered if the need arises.
A Growing Distribution
This month is the first time this newsletter has gone to over 1,500 recipients. It started in its current form in April 2011 going to around 400 people in West Christchurch. Today recipients are all over Christchurch with some living much further afield.
We had to leave a lot out of this Newsletter but will try to catch up with other topics next month
What’s on at the Hall on the Hill
Fascinating WCRA meeting Thursday 22nd October at 7.30pm
Fancy Dress Halloween Disco: Saturday 31st October – 4pm to 7pm. Tickets £5 per person (children under two years old free) are available online http://www.hallonthehill.org.uk/ or from Phil the Print in the Grove and the Launderette adjacent to The Hall
Whilst in Saxon Square a crime prevention awareness event is being organised by Christchurch Home Watch on Saturday 14 November from 10am to 1pm. You are invited to attend and learn about measures you can take at home to avoid becoming a victim of crime.