Call to suspend elections after move to take Burnley and Pendle out of Lancashire County Council control gathers pace

County Hall, Preston
County Hall, Preston

Plans for Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and Hyndburn to break away from Lancashire County Council control and form a 'Pennine Lancashire' Unitary authority with Blackburn and Darwen are being opposed by the current leaders of Burnley and Pendle.

Plans were first mooted in February when the former leaders of Burnley and Pendle Councils, Labour's Mark Townsend's and the Tories' Paul White, wrote to the Government and their MPs seeking their backing for the ambitious proposals.

However, crucially, since then the leadership of both councils has changed with the new power groups less keen on the idea.

Pendle Council's Labour leader Coun. Mohammed Iqbal shares the concerns of his local Liberal Democrat colleagues that any unitary authority could be dominated by Blackburn, and has even called for a halt in next year's elections as a result.

He is concerned that the Government may press ahead with the plans even if some of the councils are opposed to it. That fear has been heightened with the news that the leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Coun. Mohammed Khan, has written to the Government requesting an invitation to develop a business case for the proposal.

Coun. Iqbal has now written to the Government following the letter, which could trigger the process for a unitary council, to ask that planned all-out elections in Pendle be postponed in 2020.

He said: "If the Government is planning to proceed with a super (Pennine) East Lancashire Council in 2022 then it makes no sense to have all out elections with new boundaries in Pendle next May, only for everything to be redrawn and have another full set of elections two years later.

"There is a significant cost for the all-outs in Pendle which can be saved if the government want to plough ahead with the imposition of a unitary council."

The new leadership of Burnley Council also shares those concerns and a motion was tabled to be discussed at the latest full council meeting. Time restraints meant this will now be debated at the next meeting.

The motion, tabled by the council's Burnley and Padiham Independent Party leader Coun. Charlie Briggs, read: "Council notes changes to the criteria for the creation of unitary authorities used by the Department of Communities and Local Government, which means proposals for new ones no longer need the support of all the councils affected.

"Council also notes the strong indications that a unilateral proposal for an authority is likely to be submitted covering the Pennine area of Lancashire and that the Member of Parliament for Burnley supports such a body.

"This council believes abolishing existing local councils and imposing a unitary authority centred on Blackburn will lead to the loss of any true local control on local matters by local residents and their representatives. Therefore, council resolves to oppose proposals for such a Pennine Lancashire Unitary Authority."