HYNDBURN'S Labour group has vowed to continue its protest against council plans to hive off ownership of Accrington Town Hall and Oswaldtwistle Civic Theatre.
Councillors took to the streets at the weekend with a petition opposing the Tory-led council's plans to transfer management of the two buildings to the Leisure in Hyndburn Trust.
Labour has accused the Conservatives of "privatising the political heart of Hyndburn". It says it will be collecting signatures on the streets until the next full council meeting takes place in April.
Councillor Jean Battle, Labour group leader, said: "The first day went very well. People are really upset about what is going on. The petition was signed at a rate of one person every 25 seconds and we are going to carry on with the protest and collect as many signatures as possible to challenge the ruling group.
"It's a very sensitive area and people want to retain the Town Hall. The petition has been getting a lot of interest from all sections of the community."
Deputy Labour leader David Myles said: "We only did it for four-and-a-half hours and the weather was bad, yet we collected 650 signatures. This shows just how strongly people feel about this."
Councillor Myles added that the Labour group would be putting forward a notice of motion at the next full council meeting.
But council leader Peter Britcliffe blasted the protest, saying: "They know that the Town Hall and Civic Theatre are not being privatised. What we are seeing is a very cheap election gimmick, which I feel people will see through. We are looking at the way we employ people at the Town Hall and how it is managed, and we are merely investigating if it can be taken over by the Leisure Trust, which is a registered charity belonging to and run by the people of Hyndburn."
Councillor Britcliffe added: "One of the great advantages is that it saves on VAT because it is a charitable organisation and we believe we can make savings of £40,000 a year. Labour left us with a huge black hole in the budget and we have to examine how we run the council.
"The Town Hall will still belong to the council and really it would be much better if Labour was putting policies forward rather than distorting what is going on. If they want to put a notice of motion forward that is fine, but it is based on something that is not true."
Hyndburn MP Greg Pope, who also supported the Labour protest at the weekend, said: "This decision is very ill-thought out. The people deserve better. The top concern is that staff have not been considered at all. The other concern is about the cost to the public of using what is, after all, their Town Hall.
"At the moment, some community organisations can have rooms on a not-for-profit basis, but there is no guarantee that this would continue. It is the people's building and I am not sure what kind of message it sends out when its services are sold off. All the same concerns are replicated for Oswaldtwistle Civic Theatre."