HYNDBURN Council has issued a hands-off warning to "Big Brother'' Blackburn.
Instead it has reluctantly opted to merge with the Ribble Valley under a local government shake-up set to take place next year. But the decision was only taken after a bitter row between Labour and Conserv-ative councillors at a two-and-a-half-hour meeting on Wednesday.
Labour councillors wanted a big East Lancashire partnership, comprising Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rossendale, which would have a population of over half a million. But the Tories won the day by 16 votes to 15 in favour of the Ribble Valley merger as councillors voted along party lines.
During the debate many members suggested that the running of Hyndburn Council should remain as it is.
Councillor Edith Dunston said: "We don't need anyone else, we are going forward in Hyndburn and I think if it is at all possible we should retain the status quo."
As a result, council leader Peter Britcliffe suggested a two-part resolution to present to the Boundary Commission.
Hyndburn Council will state that its preferred option is to retain the present two-tier system of local government, with its second option the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley merger.
The reorganisation comes because of a referendum on the setting-up of a North West Regional Assembly set to take place next year.
If the vote is "yes'' Lancashire County Council will almost certainly be disbanded and borough councils will merge to form unitary authorities.
Councillor Britcliffe spoke of his horror at the possibility of Hyndburn being taken over by Blackburn and described regional government as "sucking power up".
He said: "Blackburn council leader Bill Taylor is waiting like Hitler to march through Accrington with his green and white buses."
He added: "My group generally believes that the status quo is the preferable option and we believe it's what the people want.
There is the option to stay as we are if people vote no in the referendum.'' But the leader of the Labour group, Councillor Jean Battle, described the Ribble Valley merger as a political move by the Tories and said that an East Lancashire Partnership was the only way forward.
She said: "I don't see how the Ribble Valley has anything in common with us. I am not happy about it. You want to go with the Ribble Valley for political reasons and I don't think the people of Hyndburn want it.
"We feel the only way forward is an East Lancashire partnership or city. This would have the scale to compete with Manchester and Liverpool.''
Deputy leader of the Labour group, Councillor David Myles, added that a unitary authority involving Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley would be too small, with a population of 125,000, and would result in huge council tax rises.
He said: "No matter what road we go down here, it's going to cost us money.
Blackburn with Darwen Council has suggested "taking over'' Hyndburn, most of the Ribble Valley and parts of South Ribble and Chorley. The Ribble Valley Council has voted for the merger with Hyndburn.
- Residents are urged to attend a special meeting on Wednesday to find out more about the proposals and have their say.
A joint meeting of Hyndburn Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committees, which will be held at 6pm at Scaitcliffe House, Accrington, will be taking a close look at all of the ideas which have been put forward.