Dorset Council has announced that from 1 April 2024 there will be significant changes to the way local councils work in Bridport.
The new structure will see:
• a single town council area incorporating most of the existing parishes of Allington, Bothenhampton & Walditch, Bradpole and Bridport;
• a total of 20 councillors, compared with 44 at present across the four parishes;
• five wards within the new council area representing Bradpole, Bothenhampton & Walditch, Bridport Central, Bridport West & Allington, and West Bay; and
• inclusion of most of the Foundry Lea (Vearse Farm) development into the single council area.
Symondsbury continues as a separate rural parish, albeit with some changes to its boundary, and Dorset Council remains the principal authority for the area.
The changes were put forward by Bridport Town Council (BTC) in October 2021 as part of a wider community governance review being carried out across the Dorset Council area, and were confirmed in July following two public consultations and extensive engagement by the town and parish councils with their constituents.
The current system of town and parish councils was last fully reviewed in 1986 when the town of Bridport was separated from the surrounding parishes by open space. In the years since, the town and the parishes have grown, so now it is just one built-up area. BTC’s main arguments for change were that:
• The whole town can achieve more in terms of local services, and will have a stronger local voice with a single council. Having four different councils governing different parts of the town is inefficient and disjointed.
• Everyone in Bridport will get to vote for their most local representative. The current system means that many people in Bridport don’t get that opportunity.
• All residents will get a say in the running of town affairs and the delivery of local services, and the cost of these services will be spread more fairly across the entire population. The existing structure also means that people living in the current Bridport town area are paying for services enjoyed by everyone across the town.
Elections for the new council take place in May 2024.
You can find more information about BTC’s case for the revised arrangements at www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/one-council-for-bridport-better-stronger-fairer.
Town Council Leader Cllr Dave Rickard says of the changes: “We think this is the right outcome for Bridport, and we look forward to working with the parish councils between now and 2024 to develop the new-look council. We had a strong debate and there were differing views, and town and parish councillors now need to apply that same passion to delivering on the detail, in the interests of all Bridport residents. We look forward to working with our parish colleagues, and it is very much my hope that they will look to be a part of the new council by standing for election.”
As well as incorporating committees to retain local identities, BTC’s submission set out plans to encourage the creation of local voluntary community groups to help protect the historic local village centres such as Bradpole, Bothenhampton, Walditch and West Bay.
The mayor of Bridport, Cllr Ian Bark, says: “As a former parish councillor myself, I know that not everyone is comfortable with putting themselves up for election by the public. By committing to the development of these volunteer-
run groups, Bridport Town Council is offering a different avenue for people to get involved in our work in support of their ‘patch’, strengthening the sense of local identity.”
Dorset Council is expected to issue a legal order shortly, confirming the legal basis for the changes. Once the order is in place, BTC will work with the local community to bring about the revised arrangements.
Bridport Town Clerk Will Austin says: “We know it will be a major undertaking to deliver the new council from April 2024, and I’m pleased that town councillors are already planning for everything that needs to happen between now and then. As well as working with parish councils to develop the detail of the legal, governance, financial, and service provision aspects, councillors have already said that they want the widest possible community involvement. It’s very much my view that this can only be a good thing in delivering the best for our town.”