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Fears over neighbours' debts keep borough from unitary bid

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A council leader has said he has withheld support for a potential east Lancashire unitary council because of fears about the debt levels of its proponents

Miles Parkinson (Lab), leader of Hyndburn BC, told LGC: “Currently Hyndburn have some fixed long-term debts of approximately £9m and [we are] one of the few - single figures - councils in past 20 years to raise council tax below the rate of inflation, which Hyndburn has just done this year.”

He said debts in the four councils promoting the unitary - Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale BCs are “approximately £260m and will have gone up likely around £300m when accounts are filed”.

Cllr Parkinson has said that he fears a share of the other councils’ debts would fall on Hyndburn residents were it to join in the unitary.

Hyndburn would though be surrounded on three sides by the new unitary were it to proceed without it.

Cllr Parkinson said though that Hyndburn would “engage in any discussions which may come forward regarding local government reorganisation in Lancashire”.

Stephen Atkinson (Con), leader of adjacent Ribble Valley BC, said in last month’s report to the council: “We cannot rest on our past achievements. There is a significant chance of the creation of an east Lancashire unitary encompassing Pendle, Burnley, Blackburn and Darwen and Rossendale. This could create a domino effect leading to the creation of other unitary authorities throughout Lancashire.”

The four councils in February sent their unitary bid to communities secretary James Brokenshire, and said they needed to be “in control of our own destiny” to create a council which is “dynamic, unceasingly ambitious but understanding of the challenges our areas face”.

This followed the collapse of local discussions on a devolution deal for the whole of Lancashire in late 2016.

Former cabinet minister Jack Straw, who was MP for Blackburn, convened a meeting in 2014 to explore a unitary for east Lancashire but nothing came of the idea.

Chorley BC also at the time unsuccessfully tried to become a unitary.

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