THE transfer of Dorset car parks, public loos and other assets to town and parish councils may not have been ruled out after all.

Shadow council executive chairman Rebecca Knox said this week that the new Dorset Council, which comes into power in May, may decide to re-visit the decisions, if asked, once it is created.

She defended the decision not to let West Dorset District Council transfer its public toilets to town and parish councils claiming that it was outside the agreed principles. Several West Dorset councillors claimed they and their officers has wasted 18 months trying to get agreement – only for it to be rejected at the last minute.

Cllr David Rickard from Bridport said the decision was based on “arbitrary rules...”It has not been a good way to start a new authority,” he said.

But despite the protests a majority vote at Thursday's shadow overview and scrutiny committee decided that the shadow executive and its officers had acted properly at the time the decision to reject the transfer was made last year.

In the run up to the vote several councillors said that the way the decision was taken, and the way the rules were interpreted, had left town, parish and district councils feeling let down. Cllr Cheryl Reynolds said that many now had “little or no trust” in the new unitary Dorset Council which will come into being in April.

“Instead of being win-win, it has been an unmitigated disaster,” she said.

Cllr Knox said that the door of the new authority would be open to forge new relationships with the lower tier councils once the elections were over and that transfer decisions could be re-considered. She said she hoped that, despite disappointment, there could be good working relationships with other councils and partner organisations.

She said that the shadow executive had sought to protect assets for the new council knowing that it would have to maintain and invest in crucial services, such as adult social care, from day one.

At one point during the occasionally tetchy meeting shadow asset briefholder and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council leader Jeff Cant threatened to withdraw if, what he described as a 'witch hunt', continued.

Cllr Shane Bartlett had questioned whether he had a  conflict of interest when arguing for the shadow executive to agree to Weymouth's £11 million loan for the initial phase of the Peninsula project.

Cllr Cant said the accusation had no foundation and threatened to take no further part in the meeting if there were more comments made about him: ”This is turning into a witch hunt. If it is it's something I am not going to engage in and I won't participate in,” he said.

Senior council officer Jonathan Mair confirmed that Cllr Cant had acted properly and had breached no rules.

Dorchester Cllr Trevor Jones said he found it inexplicable that the shadow executive had rejected the West Dorset plea to transfer public toilets, which would have saved half a million pounds from the new council's budget, year after year – while it approved the £11 million loan for Weymouth which, at best, might give an income of £300,000 a year, or could result in increased debt for the new council if the development failed to make the anticipated profit. He said he had no quarrel with the Weymouth scheme but felt the principles were not being applied in an even-handed way.

The comparison led Cllr Jones to be accused of comparing 'apples and pears' by finance briefholder Cllr Tony Ferrari – who said the two scenarios were entirely different.

There were other spats during the meeting including one between Cllr Cant and Liberal Democrat leader on the county council, David Harris.

Cllr Harris said the town was being given facilities, such as parks, which cost money to run, but not the car parking, which would not only give the new town council an income but allow it to develop a free electric bus service around the town centre, esplanade and harbourside, helping to reduce traffic.