Plans to split Dorset between two 'super councils' and dissolve existing authorities have been given the thumbs up by the government.

It is the biggest shake-up to local government in more than 40 years – and it is a move which council chiefs say will save money, protect services and give Dorset a stronger voice.

Council leaders have been awaiting a decision on the Future Dorset proposal since February, when it was submitted to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid.

Future Dorset will see western Dorset, including Weymouth and Portland, combine under one unitary authority, and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole combine under a second authority. Borough and district councils would be abolished.

It means that Weymouth is likely to retain a smaller local government model through the formation of a town council when the borough council is dissolved.

A decision over the next step for Weymouth will be made at a special meeting of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council's full council tomorrow.

Mr Javid indicated he was 'minded to' approve the Future Dorset proposal, although there will be a period of consultation until a final decision is made on January 8.

Mr Javid said: "I am satisfied on the basis of the information currently available to me that this proposal, if implemented, is likely to improve local government across the area, establishing two new councils with a credible geography, and which would command local support."

The controversial plans were rejected by councillors in Christchurch, East Dorset and Purbeck district councils, however the government's final decision will overrule their objections.

The unitary councils are proposed to be up and running by April 2019.

Leaders of those existing councils which approved the proposal, namely Cllrs Jeff Cant of Weymouth and Portland, Anthony Alford of West Dorset, Graham Carr-Jones of North Dorset, John Beesley of Bournemouth, Janet Walton of Poole, and Rebecca Knox of Dorset County, issued a joint statement.

They said: “We presented overwhelmingly strong evidence to the Secretary of State – evidence of public support, of backing by Dorset’s business community and voluntary sector, and of immense benefits for the whole county.

“Two councils will be more efficient, save money and protect public services. They can begin to secure a sustainable future for the public services that people value and need, including and in particular, essential social care for our growing older population.

“Replacing Dorset’s nine councils with two new ones - structured around the established urban and rural geography of the county – will bring a strong and prosperous future Dorset."

Council leaders have voiced their opinions on the statement released today. 

Cllr Jeff Cant, leader of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, said: “We are committed to ensuring the unique history and culture of each Dorset town and village is preserved and protected in Future Dorset, proposing to actively facilitate devolution to local communities wherever this is desired.” 

Cllr Anthony Alford, leader of West Dorset District Council said: “This change promises to deliver a prize that is far greater than any council can achieve in its current form.

"The opportunities to really transform how public services are delivered in the county is striking, and the benefits this would have for local people equally evident.”

Cllr Graham Carr-Jones, leader of North Dorset District Council, commented: “Dorset’s councils have a strong reputation for working together for the good of our residents."

MPs in Dorset have also had their say over the statement by the Secretary of State.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax said: “From the start I have made it clear that I will support whatever the local elected councillors and their constituents want.

“It was made clear that two unitary authorities were the preferred option. Everyone has been waiting for this statement because time is running out to prepare for the unitary elections in May 2019.

“The statement will ensure that further progress is made and in good time.”

West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin said: “I am absolutely delighted that this long-awaited decision has now arrived, and that it is positive.

“We must now all work very hard to bring all the councils together so that this can go forward smoothly.

“That will save a lot of administrative overhead and enable our councils to provide better funding for adult social services so that we can look after our elderly residents properly.”