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Masthead Local Govt - Governance and Risk

No error in law in decision by minister to back Dorset reorganisation: QC

A leading QC has advised Christchurch Borough Council that there was no arguable error in law in the decision by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to approve local government reorganisation in Dorset.

Last month the minister, Sajid Javid, announced that he had decided to implement the Future Dorset plans to replace the existing nine councils in the county with two unitary authorities.

Under the model, one 'urban' unitary would be created through the merger of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. The other 'rural' unitary would be established from East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland. The county council would cease to exist.

Christchurch responded by saying its lawyers were examining the lawfulness of the decision and whether it could be challenged.

Natalie Lieven QC of Blackstone Chambers provided the opinion, concluding that there was no arguable cause of action.

At the meeting tomorrow (13 March) members of the borough council will be asked to note the legal opinion and consider how to proceed.

The papers for the meeting can be viewed here. The legal opinion was commissioned after the Secretary of State issued his 'minded to' decision but updated following his confirmation of the final decision. It is at appendix D.

Cllr Trish Jamieson, Deputy Leader of Christchurch Borough Council, said: “Whilst we were disappointed with the decision from the Secretary of State it is important that we now meet to consider the best way forward.

“The legal professional advises that the decision is not challengeable and we must decide whether there are any further avenues we can pursue. Our priority now must be continuing to work as part of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Joint Committee to ensure that, if it does go ahead, local government reorganisation secures the best possible outcomes for Christchurch residents.”

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