CONTROVERSIAL Christchurch Council leader Ray Nottage survived a leadership challenge by his colleagues tonight – using his casting vote to keep himself in power.

The council’s 22 Conservative councillors met behind closed doors at the Civic Offices to discuss the challenge by Cllr David Jones.

But they were split down the middle 11-11 in the secret ballot.

Cllr Nottage used his own casting vote as chairman of the Conservative group to win – effectively voting twice.

Cllr Jones was then forced to concede.

The West Highcliffe councillor put his name forward for the leadership at the weekend after being urged to stand by a number of colleagues.

It’s understood that several Tory councillors have been unhappy with Cllr Nottage’s leadership style – one describing it as “abrasive and confrontational.”

Another told the Echo tonight. “With that result, he is clearly a lame duck.”

He described the 75-minute meeting as “tense.”

Cllr Jones said: “We’ve had the riot act read to us in words of one syllable about speaking to the press.”

Asked who had warned him not to speak to the press, he said: “No comment.”

Cllr Nottage said after the vote: “We have an elected leader and we have a group that has consolidated behind him. We have a deputy leader and we have a group consolidated behind him.

“We have a forward direction which is now no problem and we have a consolidated group behind the executive.”

Asked whether he had been weakened by the knife-edge vote, he said: “It doesn't leave me in a weak position at all because we're all Conservatives and once we've made a decision, we follow through on that decision.”

Cllr Nottage, who has represented Purewell and Stanpit on the council since 2007, succeeded Cllr Alan Griffiths as leader of the borough council in 2011.

The council has found itself repeatedly under fire in recent months.

In February, questions were asked of David Cameron after it emerged that residents who asked Christchurch council for sandbags during the floods were charged £30 a time for four flood sacks. The council later performed a U-turn and provided the sacks for free.

Cllr Nottage criticised the Daily Echo’s coverage of this issue in a blog post, calling it “pathetic”, “inaccurate” and “irresponsible”. He later deleted one of his blog entries, saying it had been posted “in anger”.

The council was under fire again in February after four protected trees at Druitt Gardens were felled by developers building a retirement development on the neighbouring Cornfactor site.

A full inquiry was ordered after complaints from residents, campaigners and Dorset County Council’s tree officer. It revealed a catalogue of blunders, with officers believing the developer had permission from 2007 to fell the trees.