Tories in opposition as Unity Alliance takes control of new BCP Council

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BCP Council Unity Alliance
BCP chair Cllr David Flagg (left) and vice-chair Cllr George Farquhar

A FORMER Christchurch mayor who led the fight to stop the BCP Council merger has been elected chairman of the new authority which is now ruled by the Unity Alliance.

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Cllr David Flagg was axed by the Conservative party when he was leader of Christchurch Borough Council after he opposed the creation of the new super council.

But last night (Tuesday) he was made the authority’s civic head as the BCP came under the control of the Unity Alliance. His vice-chair is Labour’s Cllr George Farquhar.

The ruling group is made up of Liberal Democrats, the Christchurch Independents Group, Poole People’s Party, Labour, Greens and other independents.

It is a defeat for the Tory party – which had control of the individual Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch councils. They became the largest party in the local elections but failed to gain a majority.

The new BCP leader is Poole Lib Dem Cllr Vicky Slade, who admitted in her acceptance speech: “We have got a lot of hurt to mend and a lot of bringing together.”

She urged the members of the new authority to “work together, leaving politics to one side”.

New chair Cllr Flagg had led a political and legal battle to keep the town out of the merger after 84% of residents voted against the move in a referendum. It was taken to a judicial review but was dismissed.

Cllr Flagg said he was “absolutely delighted” after being elected by a secret ballot of councillors to be the first ever chairman at the inaugural meeting at Bournemouth University.

Cllr Flagg, who has served on Christchurch council for over 20 years, beat veteran Conservative councillor Anne Stribley, who received 32 votes to his 41. She was vice-chairman of the shadow BCP.

His new role is a turnaround for Cllr Flagg, who represents Burton and Grange, after he was deselected in December 2018 by the Tories’ constituency approval committee.

He decided to stand as an Independent candidate alongside five other former Conservative Christchurch councillors who had been suspended by the party for backing his campaign against the merger.

They were successful, unlike many of their former Conservative colleagues who lost seats in the elections.

Speaking to the A&T after the meeting, Cllr Flagg said the fact he had fought against the BCP was irrelevant.

“I don’t see why people would find it odd that I am now chairman,” he said. “We fought to keep Christchurch independent from the local government review, but the government approved it through legislation.

“This is new beginnings. We have to go with what the government has said we have to go with. For me, this is representing the people of Christchurch the best way we can on this new authority.”

Cllr Flagg said he would help to ensure Christchurch gets a fair deal, especially when it comes to the harmonisation of council tax.

There has been anger over the fact that for at least six years, residents in Christchurch will be paying more tax than their Bournemouth and Poole counterparts.

There were also fears that Christchurch would be marginalised in the super council.

But Cllr Flagg said of his new role: “I think it may well reassure people that I will do everything I can to make sure our voice is heard, along with the other eight independents from Christchurch.

“Personally, I will be pushing for the harmonisation to be done as quickly as possible.”

Cllr Flagg, who served two successive years as mayor of Christchurch, still held reservations over the benefits of the BCP.

He said: “The key issue for the drive of Future Dorset was that we were going to save £100m over the next six years. We will have to wait and see if that actually comes to fruition.

“But if we can streamline services over the next four years it may happen.”

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