CHRISTCHURCH council has agreed to take part in local government reform discussions with Bournemouth and Poole – but say their decision not to merge still stands.

An extraordinary meeting of the council on Tuesday saw a unanimous decision from members agreeing to join the other two councils for talks on the future of local government in Dorset.

The joint committee will consider matters such as the disaggregation of services, council tax harmonisation and budgets for any new authority which might be created. The decision comes despite the council’s decision in January not to be part of the Future Dorset plan, which proposes merging Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole councils into one authority.

The smaller councils of East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, and Weymouth and Portland would also merge into a single authority if the plans are put into action.

Members agreed a revised recommendation to join the committee on the condition that meetings shall only be quorate if more than 50 per cent of the members and one representative of each constituent authority are present.

And it also said Christchurch reserves the right to explore alternative options whilst sitting on the joint committee.

During the debate Cllr Margaret Phipps said: “This is a really important decision.

“I am very pleased that we are making it clear that we do not support joining these authorities, but we are prepared to sit at the table and co-operate and have discussions on joint working.”

Cllr Colin Bungey said the recommendations showed the council were not “dog in the manger” about their decision and were prepared to work with others.

“Our rates from businesses have doubled in the last few years and I do not want to see that go away. I support this because we have to be around the table and we have to discuss what’s going to happen if the worst happens.

“We must continue exploring our options. We have got one of the wealthiest boroughs in the county, we have no debt, we need to try and retain that for the benefit of our residents, for the future.”

Cllr Ray Nottage said he was “encouraged” by the document he had before him, but added: “My own opinion is that those who spend most of the time in the past, they will regret not thinking about the future.”

Cllr Claire Bath said: “Now is the time that we accept the invitation given to us.

“We do not know what’s going to happen and we have to make sure we cover all areas.”

Leader, Cllr David Flagg, said: “We do not wish to be disadvantaged by not taking up our seats.

“We voted in January not to be part of the Future Dorset submission and that decision stands. However, members recognise that the interests of Christchurch residents will be best served if our council takes up its seats so that we are able to share in these discussions while we await the decision of the Secretary of State.”

During the meeting, Cllr Flagg said he found it “very hard” the Secretary of State had not been able to provide an answer “one way or another yet.”

If the Secretary of State announces he is ‘minded to’ support the Future Dorset proposal, councillors resolved they will commence the process for a Community Governance Review.