Poole politics

A quick history and summary of the current political landscape in Poole.

The Borough of Poole Council was merged with Bournemouth Council, and the Christchurch element of Dorset council in 2019 to form BCP Council by the Conservative leaders in place at the time. Poole People and other opposition parties opposed the merger because they believed it would weaken democratic accountability and undermine the distinctiveness of Poole and Christchurch. The population of Poole were denied the opportunity to give a view, though Christchurch residents were polled and voted 85% against the Conservatives scheme.

The next elections are in May 2023.

BCP Council currently has 76 councillors. Following the local elections in May 2019, an alliance administration took control consisting of members of Poole People, Bournemouth Independents, Christchurch Independents, the Green Party, the Labour Party and the Lib Dems, ie all the parties except the Conservatives. This Unity Alliance administration successfully managed the Council’s pandemic response and finances, but this crisis limited its ability to implement other policies. We did though:

  • Secure the purchase of the Power Station site in Hamworthy, a development site that had been stalled for 20 years, to deliver community orientated regeneration on it.
  • Win a heritage grant, which has funded improvements to heritage assets in Poole town centre, including safeguarding a number of historic shopfronts, repainting lampposts and other fittings and the Gosse mural.
  • Close the Lower High Street and main part of the Quay in Poole to traffic in Summer to support easier pedestrian movement and hospitality business recovery,
  • Win an £87M grant from Department for Transport to support walking, cycling and bus journeys on 5 key corridors across the conurbation.
  • Submit a bid for regeneration funding in Boscombe, which resulted in the award of £21 million; and
  • Declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency, signing the Council up to taking urgent measures to become carbon neutral.
  • Win a £12.4M grant from the Environment Agency to protect the West Quays of Poole Town and Sterte.

In October 2020 after the Unity Alliance had experienced two deaths of members and a number of defections, the Conservatives took control of BCP Council, supported by a number of councillors who had defected from Unity Alliance parties because of their unwillingness to accept active travel measures.

The Conservative Leader of the Council, Drew Mellor, has adopted a closed, combative approach, marginalising opposition councillors, and recklessly undermining council finances, which has resulted in:

  • A proposal to sell off the Council’s beach huts to a new subsidiary to raise money by loading higher council tax on future taxpayers, and using the proceeds for current expenditure.
  • A request to government for a loan of £76 million, which was refused. A £20 million loan was offered but with strings attached so the Conservative administration:
  • is currently pursuing the urgent sale of Council investment properties to plug the gaps in their budget;
  • increasing fees and charges across the board, but especially for beach hut tenants;
  • reducing Council reserves to levels described as risky by external auditors; and
  • increasing Council borrowing limits to £1.3 billion and using borrowed money to pay staff and other costs normally funded by revenue.

In 2022, preparing for the next elections, Poole Conservative Association deselected four of their councillors (who included two of the defectors referred to above (Daniel Butt (Hamworthy) and Steve Baron (Parkstone)) and they formed the Poole Engage party (initially “Poole Locals”) with another defector who was nominally independent but latterly voted with the Conservatives (Julie Bagwell (Hamworthy)). Poole Engage has additionally recruited former Conservative councillors and candidates to stand in the 2023 elections. Poole Engage councillors are still supporting the Conservative administration in Council and some of them hold paid posts within it. We therefore feel that Poole Engage is deceiving the public by portraying itself as independent. It is really a Conservative splinter group.

A controversial subject during the pandemic was measures to facilitate walking and cycling. In response to concerns about Covid transmission for users of public transport, the Conservative government encouraged every local authority to implement such measures, providing them with funding to do so and urging speedy implementation with consultation to be undertaken throughout the experiment. After widely consulting, which identified over 800 measures, the Unity Alliance used the funding to close a small number of access points to roads which officers advised would be most likely to improve safety and promote walking and cycling (and the associated health benefits), especially near schools and hospitals. This policy was the main reason for the defections referred to above. Since the Conservatives took control, they have removed some of these measures and have shown patchy support for sustainability. They have continued to invest Government Grants into walking, cycling and bus priority, by building measures on Wimborne Road, and on other roads across BCP, and creating a separate cycling path across Whitecliff Park.

The Council is currently split between the Conservatives and Poole Engage on one side and Unity Alliance parties on the other, with a small number of unaligned members in the middle. This delivers a clear choice for voters at the 2023 elections:

  • The Conservatives/Poole Engage have a record of spending recklessly, adopting a “do minimum” approach in terms of health and sustainability issues, prioritising car travel, and undermining democratic processes within the Council. Poole Engage mostly consists of members or previous candidates that were Conservative, now claim to be independent, but largely still vote with the Conservatives.
  • Poole People and the other Unity Alliance parties have a record of sound financial management throughout unprecedented times, delivering healthy, sustainable communities, encouraging walking and cycling, and taking a collaborative, transparent and inclusive approach to governance.

The current 76 Councillors and their wards and political affiliations are listed on the Council website here. The Council website also streams all major meetings live, with full recordings of meetings available online “for at least 6 months” at https://democracy.bcpcouncil.gov.uk/

There are some very interesting summaries of the state of BCP Council under the current Conservative Administration :

West Country Voices https://westcountryvoices.co.uk/is-bcp-the-most-corruptible-council-in-england/

A local independent commentator highlights the Beach Hut saga, the Conservatives Big Plan, and the Tory leadership debacles https://www.bcplocalforum.co.uk/