THE nine Christchurch councillors who have campaigned to merge with Bournemouth and Poole have been formally censured by their 13 Tory council colleagues.

The rap over the knuckles came at an extraordinary meeting of the ruling Conservative group on Friday night.

Most anti-merger councillors wanted to expel the nine from the group but the Daily Echo understands there was not enough support at the meeting for such a drastic move.

Those censured were former leader Ray Nottage, Claire Bath, Trevor Watts, Sue Spittle, Lisle Smith, Wendy Grace, Vicky Hallam, Bernie Davis and Tavis Fox.

All stayed away from the meeting apart from Cllr Fox, who went along to take notes for the others.

Christchurch continues to fight the Future Dorset plan to create one super-unitary council in the conurbation and another in rural Dorset. The matter goes to the high court next Monday.

But the nine have argued for the merger from the outset and therefore stood accused of defying official council policy.

To the anger of the anti merger side, Cllr Nottage has been elected chairman of the proposed new council’s shadow authority.

All Tory party branches in Christchurch will be notified of the censure and may be asked to take it into account when selecting candidates for the new council in 2019, if it goes ahead.

Cllr Trevor Watts was also suspended from the group for six months for an unrelated matter involving a conversation with Cllr Paul Hilliard.

The chairman of the Christchurch and East Dorset Conservative Association, Cllr Ray Bryan, told the Echo he could not comment specifically on the action taken until all members of the group had been notified.

But he added: “I will be doing all I can to bring harmony to the group.

“Local government reorganisation has divided the local party and local councillors have to be aware of the opinion of the residents.

“Judging by the recent poll, when over 80 per cent said no to joining Bournemouth and Poole, that opinion must be listened to,” he added.