CHRISTCHURCH has voted overwhelmingly against joining with Bournemouth and Poole under a single unitary council.

In total 21,022 residents returned their ballot papers and 84 per cent voted no to the super council plan, 16 per cent voted yes.

The turnout was 54 per cent and there were 25 rejected ballots.

Borough councillors meet on January 2 to decide what representations they will send to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, who is due to make a final decision on the Future Dorset scheme early next year.

Council leader David Flagg said one option would be to urge that Christchurch join the new 'rural' unitary authority covering the wider county, rather than with the conurbation. "I think the council originally didn't want to lose its sovereignty," he said.

"If we are going to be forced down this route, personally, I would rather be in the shire rather than the city by the sea."

He said: "It was extremely important to Christchurch Borough Council members that we heard the views of our residents prior to making our final representation to the Secretary of State on local government reorganisation.

“The result of the poll clearly shows that the majority of Christchurch residents do not support becoming part of a unitary council with Bournemouth and Poole.

"Whilst the final decision on reorganisation will be made by the Secretary of State we will now look to agree a robust representation at our Extraordinary Full Council meeting on January 2.

“We remain committed to the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Joint Committee to ensure that whatever the outcome moving forward, we make sure we continue to achieve the best for our residents.”

The result was welcomed by Councillor David Jones of the Keep Christchurch Special campaign, who said: "This tremendous result clearly shows what the people of Christchurch don't want - to be submerged in a greater Bournemouth.

"Now we need to show to Mr Javid that there is no consent for this plan in Christchurch."

Christchurch MP Christopher Chope, who wants the borough and county councils to be kept as they are, said the proposal cast "grave doubt" on "the methodology of the consultation on the Future Dorset proposal".

"How would the people of Poole or East Dorset answer this question if they were asked," he said.

Cllr Trevor Watts, who backs the Future Dorset plan, said: "You have to bear in mind that 47 per cent of people haven't voted, if you couple those with the yes votes it turns it on its head.

"We will see how much credit the Secretary of States gives to it.

"There is a greater good here, Christchurch has a population of 48,000, what about the hundreds of thousands of people in Dorset this plan is there to safeguard. Christchurch can't be isolationist in this."