THE first meeting of the new Shadow Authority for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole was held on Wednesday evening in a BU lecture hall.

But for the ruling Conservatives from Christchurch it was effectively all over before it began.

The Tories and two independents left the meeting at the start, led by council leader, David Flagg.

Declaring a potential conflict of interest due to Christchurch Council’s ongoing legal challenge of local government reorganisation, Cllr Flagg read out a statement and then exited followed by some of his colleagues – those who oppose merger with Bournemouth and Poole.

Immediately after they left, the former leader of Christchurch Council and fellow Conservative Cllr Ray Nottage, was appointed chairman of the authority and a number of his colleagues on the council also remained for the duration of the meeting.

It was the most graphic of illustrations of how the Conservatives on the small authority are ruptured right down the middle.

One Tory described the election of Cllr Nottage as “a slap in the face for Christchurch and its residents.”

There are suggestions that a formal complaint may now be made to the Conservative Party hierarchy about Cllr Nottage – one of the main architects of the merger – by his own colleagues.

Cllr Flagg said that he would not attend any further meetings of the Shadow Authority until the judicial review has been resolved.

“It is accepted that the [structural change] order is currently in place, but if the application for a judicial review goes forward to a full hearing, Christchurch Borough Council is likely to seek interim relief,” he said.

“Because of the impending judicial review, members are advised that there is a potential conflict of interest should a Christchurch member be elected to any position on the Shadow Authority.

“It is also accepted that there is a statutory duty upon Christchurch Borough Council to co-operate with the Shadow Authority and we shall ensure that the council fulfils its legal obligations.

“In accordance with Christchurch Borough Council’s mandate, members will undertake the necessary actions to protect the interests of the residents of our ancient borough.”

The Shadow Authority is made up of the 120 members of the three borough councils with only 18 not representing the Conservative Party.

Among the decisions made yesterday was the appointment of chairmen and vice-chairmen on the Shadow Authority’s committees and of the overall organisation.

Alongside Cllr Nottage’s appointment, the former deputy leader of Borough of Poole, Ann Stribley, was made vice-chairman of the Shadow Authority.

Cllr Nottage said: “What we are doing is to the benefit of all of the taxpayers and residents of our communities.

“I know how difficult it is going to be, but let’s remind ourselves of the fact that we are part of a process which will save us as much as £100m across Dorset.”

Although he has been chosen as the chairman of the authority, the leader position will be filled by the chairman of its Shadow Executive Committee who will be appointed at its first meeting next Friday.

Conservative sources have said that Borough of Poole leader Janet Walton is the frontrunner for the position with Cllr John Beesley, the leader of Bournemouth Council, who is the subject of a year-long police investigation into his business interests, expected to be selected for the deputy role.

Bournemouth managing director, Jane Portman, has been appointed interim head of paid service (effectively the chief executive) and Tanya Coulter as interim monitoring officer.