SECRECY surrounds a church's plan to house ex-prisoners, many of whom are battling drug addictions, around the borough.
An Observer reporter was barred from a meeting to discuss the scheme held at Oswaldtwistle Community Church's Hope Centre on Wednesday.
Among the 80 invited guests were delegates from Accrington and Rossendale College, Rhyddings Business and Enterprise School and representatives from Wymott, Kirkham, Lancaster and Preston prisons as well as ex-cons themselves.
The behind-closed-doors meeting was organised by senior leader Brian Jackson to kick-start a resettlement project dubbed Project Restore, which aims to help inmates back into society after they are released from jail.
But Councillor Doug Hayes, who used someone else's invitation to get into the meeting, expressed grave concerns about the project and the secrecy surrounding it.
And Hyndburn Council leader Peter Britcliffe has called on church leaders to give a full presentation to the council.
It is not known how many ex-prisoners are involved in the project or over how wide an area they will be re-housed.
But the invitation letter sent to delegates says most of those involved have been "seeking to address substance misuse".
Councillor Hayes fumed: "I am perturbed that this is being called a community project, yet the whole community is not involved.
"It is all right saying: 'We are a community church and we can do this, that and the other'. But if they want to put these people in our communities, the public has a right to know.
"I agree with the principle of helping thy neighbour but sometimes there are other principles involved. These people would not be restricted and if they decided they didn't want to conform, then who could stop them?''
Councillor Hayes said he was escorted around the centre, a former factory in Watson Street, by church members who would "butt in'' as he quizzed ex-prisoners, two of whom now live in Oswaldtwistle, about their experiences. He was also stunned there were no police present.
He said: "One person I met had been in jail 13 times. These people don't change overnight. They kept saying they had found God and found hope. But I have met these people before and they can be devious. They can be good until it suits them.
"We could get all sorts of hardcore burglars and paedophiles but we don't know because it's all so secretive."
Expressing his alarm at not being formally invited to the meeting, Councillor Britcliffe said: "I realise there are people with problems who need help, but here in Hyndburn we are dealing with our own problems in four areas of deprivation.
"We have bail hostels and homes for young offenders dotted throughout the borough already. We have our own drug problems in pockets of Hyndburn without importing them.
"I know Mr Jackson is a devout Christian and his work is most laudable, but I have strong reservations over whether Oswaldtwistle and Hyndburn are the right place for this kind of scheme."
The invitation letter from Mr Jackson states: "Much of the project is already up and running and we are currently helping a number of ex-offenders to resettle into the community.
"We have been involved in working in several prisons over the last 18 months and have become increasingly aware of the need for effective resettlement.
"It has become clear to us that the area of resettlement is the key to breaking the cycle of re-offending and imprisonment for these individuals.
"It is with this in mind that we have recognised the need to implement a structured programme which will hopefully give individuals who wish to relocate and resettle in our area the support they need in order to achieve this."
After our reporter had been turned away from the meeting, which featured lunch in a specially-erected marquee, Mr Jackson told his audience he had tried to "barge in".
We made numerous attempts to contact Mr Jackson after the meeting but he had not returned our calls by the time we went to press.
- THE church hit the headlines in April 2003 when a gift day raised a staggering £140,000.