LOCAL government in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole is currently dominated by the Conservative Party.

This dominance, particularly in Bournemouth where the party controls 51 out of 54 seats, has led to fears the new combined unitary authority may lack opposition to keep it in check.

In particular, councillors approached by the Echo in Christchurch and Poole have expressed concern that Tories representing their towns may, subject to the party whip, be forced to approve Bournemouth-focused decisions which are not in the best interests of their residents.

Christchurch Conservative councillor David Jones, who opposes local government reorganisation, said this concern was the reason he would not be standing again for the Tories.

"It is important that whoever is elected is prepared to defend Christchurch," he said.

"I will not be standing as a Conservative councillor as in a 'Greater Bournemouth' authority I would be required to accept the decisions of the Conservative Group.

"Those decisions would adversely affect Christchurch, I would not support them and would be kicked out.

"Whoever accepts the decisions of their party without question is the lowest form of party hack."

Cllr Phil Eades of Poole Liberal Democrats said: "I have always got the impression it was Bournemouth driving this, Cllr Beesley and his buddies.

"Even those Tories who didn't like the merger just didn't turn up to meetings so they wouldn't have to vote against it.

"The new council will be Bournemouth-dominated and things which are not popular, like a new travellers site, will end up in Christchurch or Poole."

There has been speculation that the apparent unpopularity of LGR in Christchurch, as strongly indicated by the 84 per cent 'no' vote in the Local Poll last year, will hit the blue vote hard.

Cllr Jones said: "I fear that the electoral chances of Conservatives have been damaged in Christchurch and those who supported Future Dorset may find the public mood is not in their favour."

But Cllr Mark Howell, leader of Poole People Party, said any new independents would face a very hard task getting elected.

"Any independents would be better off if they form themselves into a party like Poole People," he said.

"There needs to be a seismic change in voting patterns to make a significant difference or change the governing party.

"Unfortunately the Conservatives have more resources than other parties."

Cllr Eades said the first-past-the-post system weighed in the favour of the Tories.

"I would be surprised if there are less than 60 Conservative councillors.

"I do expect there to be more independents standing, but splitting the vote would only benefit the Tories."

As previous reported Cllr Howell has complained to the standards board about his Borough of Poole colleague Cllr Janet Walton, Conservative leader of the shadow authority executive committee, the precursor to the new council.

He said her alleged refusal to provide him with answers to emailed questions showed the "authoritarian and dictatorial approach that citizens and councillors from other parties can expect if the Conservatives secure a majority in the merged council in the elections in May".

Separately, he told the Echo: "A key problem with the Conservative Party is they enforce the whip rigidly and don't allow councillors to make their own minds up about issues and follow their consciences.

"Running a council shouldn't really be too political, it is about making common sense decisions."

Cllr Walton has denied the accusations. She told the Echo: "That is not my style, I believe in engagement and listening to people of all parties, I don't need to agree with them. I have gone out of my way to listen."

Asked about whether a Tory majority-dominated council would be good for the area in general, and Poole and Christchurch in particular, she said: "When we come to the next election it is the electorate that will decide which parties they wish to sit on the authority.

"There will be 76 councillors, 10 from Christchurch, 30 from Poole and 36 from Bournemouth.

"I think that will help us to have a good mix of various parties who will be able to hold any new administration to account."

According to Cllr Howell, members of several opposition parties have been discussing setting up a new group called Three Towns Together.

"We recognise, in the context of the Tory majority, we have got to work to establish a strong opposition across the conurbation, that is why the emergence of the Three Towns Together group is helpful."

Both he and Cllr Eades said they believed electors would reject any formal pact between parties, however.