THE new chief executive for the combined Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council is expected to be chosen on Wednesday.

The Daily Echo understands that five candidates are in the running after a meet-and-greet event held at Bournemouth's Hilton Hotel on Thursday, which some 80 people attended.

These include current Bournemouth council managing director Jane Portman, considered by many members to be the front runner, and current Dorset County chief Debbie Ward, who also applied to be head of the new combined Dorset Council but was rejected last week in favour of Matt Prosser, chief of North and West Dorset districts and Weymouth and Portland.

There are three exterior candidates who are understood to include Melbourne Barrett, chief executive of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, and David Williams, chief of both Portsmouth City Council and Gosport Borough Council.

The final candidate is said to be Graham Farrant, current Land Registry chief executive and chief land registrar.

One council source anonymously told the Echo: "Jane is thought to be the most likely choice, but there are some very strong exterior candidates so I wouldn't place a bet."

The top officer position in the new authority comes with a salary of "circa £180,000", and the appointment process alone has cost £32,000.

The TaxPayers' Alliance said at the start of the process that whoever takes up the role "must work very hard to prove they are worth anything like it”.

The final decision will be made after a 'breakfast event' at Upton House in Poole on Wednesday.

The appointment panel is understood to include the leaders and deputy leaders of both Bournemouth and Poole councils.

Mr Barrett was previously director of housing and regeneration at the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, with responsibility for a £1 billion residential property portfolio. He was behind the £8bn redevelopment of Earl's Court and, at Oxford City Council, the redevelopment of the Westgate Shopping Centre.

Mr Williams has worked for Portsmouth since 2007 and in 2016 was appointed chief executive in Gosport when a controversial shared management structure was agreed.

Mirroring concerns in Christchurch and Poole, the move sparked concern from some Gosport councillors who feared the borough would be sidelined in favour of its larger neighbour.

Mr Farrant was previously chief executive at Thurrock Council and the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, as well as private leisure consultancy firms.

On his appointment to the Land Registry, Minister for Business Matthew Hancock, said he had "the skills and knowledge to lead and manage the organisation through its transformation into a modern, digital organisation".