CHRISTCHURCH MP Sir Christopher Chope has said BCP Council needs to rebuild public confidence after the controversial beach hut sale plan collapsed.

Veteran Conservative Sir Christopher told the Daily Echo “a lack of transparency", "the obfuscation" and "the fact that nobody really knew what was going on” had led to residents doubting the local authority.

As reported, BCP Council’s Tory leader Cllr Drew Mellor confirmed the plan to fund transformation through selling thousands of beach huts to a wholly-owned or majority-owned council company had been scrapped.

This came after levelling-up secretary Greg Clark MP intervened and confirmed he would be changing the rules set by government to prevent the special purpose vehicle (SPV) project from being allowed.

Mr Clark is writing to all councils today to confirm rules will change to close a loophole in the existing regulations.

Sir Christopher, who has been an outspoken critic of the beach hut sale plan, said: “When I spoke to him (Mr Clark) about it over the weekend he was saying what they (the government) are trying to do is discourage other councils from doing a similar sort of thing. We always used to call it creative accounting really.

“It was unnecessary. If they want to sell their assets then there is nothing to stop them doing that but what they can’t do is get into this contrived arrangement.

“Sometimes BCP Council has given the impression of being more like old fashioned municipal socialism rather than promoting conservatism.

“Hopefully, this will save them from themselves and clear the air and give the council the opportunity to take fresh guard and rebuild confidence with the local people.”

Asked if he felt the council had lost residents’ confidence, Sir Christopher said: I think it has because the lack of transparency, the obfuscation, the fact that nobody really knew what was going on.

“I have discussions with the leader, with the chief executive about this and I have been left unsatisfied because nothing has been made clear.

“We had all been told this was going to be resolved before the summer break but it hasn’t been and now what was happening is they were going to try and spring it during the parliamentary recess and I think the government has been equal to the challenge.

“From talking to Greg Clark it clear that they were strongly advising the council not to do this but they had made some contingency plans were the council to try and do this then they would introduce the regulations straightaway.

“They have been planning against that and it is a pity that our BCP Council has forced the government to do this when they have been advised privately that it was a bad thing.”

Councillor Mellor said discussions are ongoing with government at a ministerial level around being able to borrow the transformation funding required, circa £50million.

Discussing this option, Sir Christopher said: “The country is facing a debt crisis and the last thing people want is for their council to not live within its means, to pretend it is managing by using a capital for revenue purposes.

“We were promised when BCP Council was set up that this was going to be efficient and there were going to be a lot of savings but we weren’t expecting that it was going to be a way of raising money on the never never to be spend now.”

Sir Christopher said he was pleased the government had intervened “despite the fact” BCP Council has a Conservative administration and deputy leader Cllr Philip Broadhead is chairman of the Conservative Councillors Association.

The backbench MP said the first duty of government was to protect the public purse.

He said: “What one would have hoped was that actually instead of ploughing on, the council leaders would have pulled back frankly and said ‘look we are not going to go down this route because it is obviously quite novel, it is going to be interpreted as being potential fraudulent and we are being strongly advised against it’.

“I haven’t seen the KPMG report. I have kept asking to see the report. I am not sure what advice that was giving on this but it has always been recognised that this was a potentially risky route to embark upon and I am sure that like anybody else embarking upon a risky enterprise, the council has got some contingency plans.”

Sir Christopher said when he was involved in local government before he became an MP, his council sold surplus assets in order to make ends meet.

“If the council wishes to sell the beach huts then it can do so but what it can’t do is sell the beach huts to itself and borrow the money to do it,” he said.