HYNDBURN'S pioneering neighbourhood wardens face the axe because of a funding crisis.
Six of the 12 wardens - who have done vital work in the borough's most run-down areas - will get the chop next March, with the rest following a year later.
The bombshell news was revealed this week after the council confessed it could not find enough cash to keep paying them.
The wardens, who tackle problems of litter, juvenile nuisance and anti-social behaviour, will be hugely missed, according to community leaders and angry councillors.
Joseph Treacy, chairman of the West Accrington Residents' Association, said: "They make such a difference to people's quality of life and have done a wonderful job.
"They have powers to fine people for littering and dog fouling and act as a real link between the council, communities and the police. This move amazes me. We've only had them for three years."
The wardens took to the streets in March 2002 in a £410,000 scheme launched in a blaze of publicity.
Their brief was to reduce crime and improve the environment in Hyndburn's four most deprived wards - Church, Barnfield, Central and Spring Hill.
Based at Accrington Police Station and wearing a distinctive uniform, they had an immediate effect as they also organised clean-ups and rubbish amnesties.
But they were paid for from the Government's Neighbourhood Renewal Fund - cash the council knew would only last until March 2006.
Hyndburn "crime czar" Doug Hayes said: "It's extremely disappointing for me because we have put it on the backburner, yet taken all the plaudits and appeared in the press."
The Tory councillor, who predicted at the scheme's launch that it could eventually expand across Hyndburn, said: "We haven't put any money away for the continuation of the wardens or even tried to get the partnership sorted out. Now we are doing this at the eleventh hour, it is extremely difficult."
Councillor Graham Jones, Labour's shadow portfolio holder for regeneration, said: "This is mismanagement. The council is trying to blame the Government, but that's ridiculous. The council's known for years that NRF money would run out and that alternative funding was needed. But it's left it to the last minute. It is gross negligence."
Opposition leader Jean Battle, ward councillor for Church, said: "Residents are up in arms about this. It's the second time we have lost our wardens because the council hasn't investigated long and hard enough to find solutions.
"We are giving up at the first hurdle. It's not good enough to say: 'We haven't got the money, that's the end of it.' We are a public service and we have a duty to find other funding."
Tom Parsons, of Spring Hill Network, told a police liaison meeting in Clayton-le-Moors on Wednesday night: "The wardens have fulfilled a much-needed role and have established a real rapport where they are based.
"They are a vital contact between people and the police."
Superintendent Warren Turner said: "The Government only gives funding for wardens for a limited time, but every effort is being made to make sure we do not lose a vital resource."
Council leader Peter Britcliffe said Hyndburn's "partners" such as the police, the fire authority and Lancashire County Council benefited from the work of the wardens, and all should provide cash to pay for them.
"People speak with great affection for the wardens and say they've been of real benefit. But for us to take over the funding would add between 10 and 13 per cent to the council tax. However, I will pledge to provide the council's share of funding for the wardens if our partners also pay their share."
In a report to the Cabinet, Nigel Rix, director of the council's regeneration arm, Hyndburn FIRST, wrote that the police are likely to employ six new community support officers in April and they could perform many of the wardens' duties.
- THIS week's news echoes a major row six years ago when the popular town centre warden patrols were also axed.