THE controversial leader of Christchurch council, Ray Nottage and his deputy Claire Bath were ousted by their Tory colleagues on Monday.

There were defeated on a motion of no confidence in an acrimonious private meeting of the ruling Conservative group.

Former Mayor Cllr David Flagg was elected as acting leader ahead of what is a critical few weeks for the council.

It's believed he commanded support as a unity candidate and someone who is not a 'double hatter' - a borough councillor who is also a county councillor.

He automatically becomes leader of the council as the leader of the majority group.

The move to depose Cllr Nottage came after a turbulent few months, dominated by the debate on restructuring Dorset's nine councils.

Cllr Nottage was one of the architects of the plan to merge Christchurch with Bournemouth and Poole. But his own council voted against it last month and his colleagues agreed he could not take the council forward in seeking alternatives. He was also a hugely divisive figure.

Cllr Flagg is one of two signatories to a motion going to Christchurch full council on Tuesday night seeking to explore an option to work with Purbeck on restructuring.

Cllr Nottage survived another no confidence vote two years ago. And one in December was withdrawn at the last minute.

Councillors now hope the council can be more united under the new leadership.

Cllr Flagg, who has been the council for 18 years and represents Burton ward told the Echo: "My first job is to put a marker in the sand over local government reorganisation. We want to to put options to the government that have not been discussed or considered.

"We have listened to the people of Christchurch who want to see the ancient borough remain sovereign, as we do."

Cllr Ray Nottage, Christchurch Borough Council, said: “I am very proud of everything I have achieved as Leader of Christchurch Borough Council, particularly our hugely successful partnership with our neighbours East Dorset District Council.

"Since 2011 by prudent financial control, good management and innovative outcomes we have maintained services at a cumulative saving of £12m.

“I respect the decision of my colleagues and my priority now us to ensure we move forward together to continue to achieve the best outcomes for our residents.”

Cllr Flagg said he would work hard to repair trust between the council and its residents.

Portfolio holders appointed by Cllr Nottage remain in place for the moment until Cllr Flagg appoints a new team.