TODAY (Monday) sees the end of Christchurch Borough Council and the birth of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, the new unitary authority ruling all three areas.
The long-awaited “super council” will be responsible for local government services across the combined patch.
The merger – which was opposed by many Christchurch councillors – is promoted at creating a stronger voice when bidding for government funding and investment in road improvements, housing, schools and regeneration.
Given the go-ahead by parliament in May last year, the BCP will have less overheads than the former borough councils, reduce duplication and is expected to be more efficient than its predecessors with fewer councillors and staff.
Its new neighbour is Dorset Council which has been set up to represent the other boroughs in the county. The two new unitary authorities are predicted to save over £100m over the first six years.
The first elections to each council will take place on 2nd May as part of the 2019 local elections.
Cllr Janet Walton, currently leader of Poole and shadow leader of BCP, is viewed as the favourite to become the body’s first new leader. Cllr Ray Nottage is currently shadow chairman.
Cllr Nottage was present at a poignant last meeting of Christchurch Borough Council held last Thursday night during which councillors recalled fond memories of serving on it.
Some members became emotional talking about their times representing residents of the ancient town.
Others were angry at what they see as Christchurch being made “redundant” by BCP. The council had launched a legal challenge against the merger when it was first proposed which failed.
In an emotional voice Cllr Colin Bungey said: “I stand here tonight as the longest serving member of Christchurch council having served for some 36 years. It is with a sense of pride and satisfaction that in those years I have been able to serve many residents.
“But today is one tinged with sadness. This ancient borough is one of the oldest in Eng-land and the most senior in Dorset and is about to be made redundant.
“But those of us who can must make every effort to ensure that our borough’s regalia, history and heritage are not forgotten and consigned to the scrapheap.
“It must be preserved.”
His speech received a loud round of applause from councillors and members of the public who had packed into the meeting at the civic offices in Bridge Street.
Councillors wore their full official regalia which will now be used by the new Christchurch Town Council which comes into being in May.
Christchurch councillors decided to set up the new council amid fears that the town would lose its identity by being merged into the BCP.
At the start of the meeting there was a minute’s silence held for the victims of the massacre in Christchurch’s twin town in New Zealand.
Mayor Cllr Lesley Dedman invited members to talk about their memories of their years serving the borough. Many spoke of their regret that the council will no longer exist
Cllr Margaret Phipps said: “This is a great council that has served the residents of Christchurch for so many years. I think this is a very, very sad day.”
Others, like Cllr Claire Bath, paid tribute to the officers and volunteers who have helped the council run.
She said: “It is the people who have made Christchurch special. Thank you for all you’ve done.”
Cllr Nottage also praised the council officers saying: “I have never seen such dedication and professionalism in the most challenging of times.”
Some councillors spoke of their pride in achieving improvements for the town, like Cllr David Jones who talked about how Somerford had been successfully regenerated.
He said: “We did not go to the residents and say this is what you want we will give it to you. We said to them: ‘What do you want?’ As a result you can see the massive improvements there.”
Cllr Jones said he was looking forward to the new Christchurch Town Council, saying: “They will have the borough’s coat of arms, the borough’s flag and the borough’s motto – ‘fidelity and freedom’.”
At the end of the meeting the mayor presented council officers with tokens of her appreciation. She also gave councillors certificates of service.
Bringing the meeting to a close, Cllr Dedman gave a speech as the last borough council mayor, saying: “Thank you all for the happy memories and the service you have given for the people of our borough.”
She added: “Christchurch town council is the vehicle for safeguarding our civic regalia. It will also give our residents a strong voice in continuation of the preservation of our heritage.”