THE Government has been accused of ignoring the people of Hyndburn after it forged ahead with plans to merge the borough with Blackburn.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced this week that the options for proposed local government reorganisation had been finalised ... but ignored the pleas of more than a thousand Observer readers through our Back Off Big Brother campaign.
Our petition, backed and handed over to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister by Hyndburn MP Greg Pope, urged Mr Prescott to reject the plans, which were put forward by the Boundary Committee in May.
The decision not to do so means that if a referendum on whether to introduce a North West Regional Assembly produces a "yes" vote, the ONLY two choices available will be either to create a single Blackburn with Hyndburn Council or a Lancashire-wide authority incorporating all the region's district councils.
The announcement was greeted with dismay by Hyndburn's civic leaders, who said that the wishes of the people had not been taken into account.
Mr Pope said: "I am very disappointed, particularly as the Observer campaign against the merger wasn't listened to by Mr Prescott. I had rather hoped the Government might defer the whole thing because I don't think there is any groundswell of support in my constituency for either the local government proposals or the regional government proposals on which they're based.
"I don't think there is anything that can be done because the Government seems intent on proceeding with this referendum. But if it returns a "no'' vote, then we will be left with the status quo."
Michael Whewell, of the Hyndburn Chamber of Trade, which also backed our campaign, said it was still against the proposals and called for an information campaign to explain the plans to residents.
He said: "It is disappointing but not altogether surprising. The referendum campaign so far seems to be deliberately pushing people along the route of regional government.
"It is being promoted as more democratic but in our situation it would be the reverse. It would be nothing short of a disaster for Hyndburn."
Councillor David Myles, deputy leader of Hyndburn's Labour group, said if regional government got the go-ahead, there was a danger that even if the whole of Hyndburn voted against the Black-burn merger, they could still be overruled by voters elsewhere in the region.
He added: "We're not happy - we wanted an option for an East Lancashire authority on the ballot papers. Then there would have been a real choice - instead, it feels as if the decision has been made for us."
Hyndburn Council leader Peter Britcliffe said: "This just shows that we have been totally ignored. It seems to be that it doesn't matter a jot what the people want, we're just going to have it forced on us.
"But my message is don't despair. Just say no to regional government and that will be the end of it. I will certainly be doing my best over the coming months to promote the "no'' vote. The people of Hyndburn cannot afford to ignore this."
The national referendum on whether to introduce elected regional assemblies has been scheduled for 4 November, subject to approval by Parliament.
- Our campaign against the proposed Hyndburn takeover by Blackburn continues and will resume prior to the referendum. In the meantime, Back Off Big Brother car stickers remain available from the Observer offices and selected newsagents.