All change on the Dorset coast

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Anyone walking through Bournemouth cannot fail to notice the cranes towering busily over the town. Cratus played a part in creating this bustling skyline, helping win permission for one of these major construction projects! But new offices, student accommodation and homes aren’t the only thing being built on the Dorset coast. A new council is under construction. From 1 April 2019, the Boroughs of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will cease to exist as separate entities and, in their place, will be a new unitary authority.

Shape of the new council

But what do we know about this newly created council? So far, we know it will (imaginatively) be called Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (or BCP) and that the first elections will take place in May 2019.

We know that there will be 76 councillors covering 33 wards (10 three member wards, 20 two member wards), meaning that each councillor will represent roughly 4,000 residents. [1] Currently there are 125 council seats for the area – 54 for Bournemouth, 42 for Poole, 24 for Christchurch and 5 on Dorset County Council. The formation of BCP will reduce the overall number of councillors by 49. Some long serving members will lose their seat without a vote being cast, and contests are already heating up for the right to contest a seat in next year’s inaugural elections.

We also know that there is a new Chief Executive in town. Graham Farrant, who since 2015 has been Chief Executive and Chief Land Registrar at HM Land Registry, will take the reins in January 2019. Previously the Chief Executive at Thurrock Council, Brentwood Council and the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, Mr Farrant has become known as a transformation specialist, which will no doubt come in handy during BCP’s formative years.

Who will be the new Leader?

A key unknown is who will become the Leader of the new Council. Like the new Chief Executive, whoever is chosen will have a huge impact on the strategies, ambitions and ultimately achievements of the new Council.

Councillor Janet Walton, currently Leader of Poole and Shadow Leader of BCP, is viewed by some as the favourite. However, politics is a numbers game and Bournemouth will have the largest contingent of councillors on the new Council. Councillor John Beesley, Leader of Bournemouth Borough Council, is therefore the most likely to become Leader of the unitary authority.

Given their staunch opposition to the merger it is almost unimaginable that anyone from the Ancient Borough of Christchurch would become Leader. Although, there are other influential positions available.

In a move unlikely to placate residents of Christchurch opposed to the reorganisation, Councillor Ray Nottage, who as Leader of Christchurch led the charge for the merger, has become the Shadow Chairman. If Councillor Nottage is selected as a candidate and wins a seat, he is sure to play an integral role in BCP’s future.

Cratus will be providing regular reports on the changes and will be looking into the finer details of the politics and agendas at play over the coming months from our new office just along the coast in Southampton.

[1] Local Government Boundary Commission for England: New electoral arrangements for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council Final Recommendations, Oct 2018, p. 5

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