FIVE Conservative members of Christchurch council have pledged to stand as Independents when the authority merges with Bournemouth and Poole to prevent the town being “dominated”’ by its bigger neighbours.
The borough council’s current leader, Cllr David Flagg, has teamed up with fellow Tories, the mayor Cllr Lesley Dedman, Cllr Margaret Phipps, Cllr Nick Geary and Cllr Janet Abbott.
They say they will work with the authority’s two existing Independent members, Cllr Colin Bungey and Cllr Fred Neale, to give residents “a strong and united voice” when the new unitary comes into being in April.
All seven campaigned against the merger which was overwhelmingly opposed by around 84% (approximately 17,000) of Christchurch residents in a referendum in December 2017.
However, a few weeks later the move was approved by then secretary of state for communities and local government, Sajid Javid.
Cllr Flagg said: “The residents of Christchurch have reason to be concerned about the ambitions and plans of this new Bournemouth-dominated council, in everything from planning to housing.
“Bournemouth has insufficient land for all the new housing they require, so it is obvious they will need Christchurch green belt to meet their targets. We will stand up and fight for Christchurch as non-party representatives and do what we believe is right for our borough.”
Cllr Dedman said: “My desire has only ever been to serve the residents, and I can best do this in the unitary if I am able to be a strong free and independent voice for Christchurch people.”
Residents were entitled to feel let down by the Conservative government and some Tory borough councillors who supported the merger, Cllr Phipps said.
“Christchurch was forced into this new mega-council and was effectively sold out,” she added.
“The new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council will come into existence in April, with elections in May, and it is clear that the best interests of Christchurch cannot by served by Conservatives who will be beholden to a Tory party whip imposed from Bournemouth.”
Cllr Bungey, who has been a councillor since 1983, added: “Christchurch Independent representatives will stand up and fight for the borough at every turn and on every issue, not be whipped into line from Bournemouth’s centralised leadership.
“It must be very obvious to most people that the Conservative leaders in Bournemouth have absolutely no interest in doing what is best for Christchurch.
“A clear example is their refusal to even consider council tax harmonisation across the three councils from 1st April 2019, resulting in Christchurch residents having to pay more than Bournemouth and Poole residents for six years.”
Cllr Geary, who like Cllrs Flagg, Neale and Bungey is a former mayor of Christchurch, added: “The fight on behalf of Christchurch and its residents to prevent us being dominated and overwhelmed by Bournemouth, goes on.”
A full team of Christchurch Independents will be fielded, with two candidates in each of the five wards. Other Conservatives have indicated they may join up amid growing concerns about the new authority representing a Bournemouth takeover.
The move follows growing concern in other areas about the purging of longstanding Conservative councillors such as Dave Smith of Bournemouth and Elaine Atkinson in Poole.