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High Court dismisses legal challenge to local government reorganisation in Dorset

A High Court judge has rejected a legal challenge brought by Christchurch Borough Council over local government reorganisation in Dorset.

Under the proposals, backed by former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, Christchurch is due to become part of a new unitary through a merger with Bournemouth and Poole councils.

Another 'rural' unitary would be established from East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland. The county council would cease to exist.

Christchurch had argued that the Secretary of State acted beyond his powers in passing the legislation to allow the reorganisation to go ahead.

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The judicial review challenge was heard in the High Court on 30 July. Sir Ross Cranston's ruling can be viewed here: Christchurch Borough Council, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government [2018] EWHC 2126.

Cllr David Flagg, Leader of the Council, Christchurch Borough Council, said: “We are disappointed by today’s judgement. We have been advised that a number of points set out in the judgment are still arguable in law and therefore we will be responding to the judge on these. Depending on his response we will consider whether an appeal to the Court of Appeal would be appropriate or not.”

A statement issued on behalf of Bournemouth Borough Council, Dorset County Council, Borough of Poole, East Dorset District Council, North Dorset District Council, Purbeck District Council, West Dorset District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council said they were “delighted but unsurprised” by the judgment.

It added: “A huge amount of work has already been undertaken, and we are making excellent progress towards creating the two new councils. Christchurch Borough councillors and their officers have always been welcome at the various meetings that have taken place, working to form the two new councils.

“We respect the choice of Christchurch Borough Council to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision, through a judicial review on a procedural point of law. In doing so, we note that the validity of the case for creating two new councils was not the basis for this judicial review challenge.

“Christchurch Borough Council has spent a very significant amount of council tax payers’ money in pursuing this legal action. The High Court has rejected that challenge and we hope that all Christchurch Borough Councillors will now accept that judgment, and fully take part in planning for and making decisions about the new council.”

The statement continued: “We are optimistic this matter is now behind us, and we can look forward to working together to create the best new local councils we can, to protect public services as much as possible, and to secure future growth and prosperity for our areas.”

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