OPENESS and transparency is being called for by Liberal Democrat councillors across Mid Dorset and Poole, concerned about "secret merger" meetings.

Members met in the light of the "Gang of Four's" announcement that they were exploring proposals for a combined unitary authority for Bournemouth, Poole, East Dorset and Christchurch.

The Lib Dems are concerned that the Conservative leaders of the four councils are drawing up plans to create a "monster council" across the conurbation, reaching as far north as Verwood.

"To have not discussed this very important issue with other councils and councillors before making the announcement is totally unacceptable," said Cllr Janet Dover, leader of the Lib Dem group on Dorset County Council.

"It has created a strong feeling of distrust and soured otherwise good relationships."

Cllr David Budd, speaking on behalf of the Purbeck group of Lib Dem councillors confirmed Purbeck Council has not been consulted.

"This was a real surprise to us all," he said. "We are concerned that the development of a business case based purely on finance will not give a full enough picture on which to base any future decision."

Councillors were concerned that economic and social factors must be considered and said it was important that a wider range of options were under review and the public involved. They said a single "monster council" would likely end plans for a Dorset-wide combined authority which would allow co-operation on economic growth and transport while allowing district and unitary authorities to retain a level of autonomy.

Cllr. Mike Brooke, Lib Dem group leader on Borough of Poole said the option of a combined authority including a wider range of services comparable to all other proposals across the country, was not being considered.

“It is essential this option is offered to councils since all other proposals remove an individual council’s sovereignty and right to make its own decisions. Residents must be involved from an early stage and given an opportunity to have their say through citizens’ assemblies and a referendum," he said.

A decision will be made in spring 2016.