THE row over proposals to merge six East Lancashire councils into an single all-purpose authority has deepened, splitting local politicians across party lines.

Last month Blackburn with Darwen Tory group leader Mike Lee proposed a Pennine super-unitary to save cash.

His blueprint to merging Burnley, Hyndburn, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Pendle and Rossendale a single council splitting Lancashire county council in two has angered senior Conservative colleagues.

Tory county leader Geoff Driver said the plan was not an option.

Last week Hyndburn Labour MP Graham Jones gave Coun Lee his full support in Parliament telling ministers: “This is really important because there’s an opportunity to make great savings.”

He argued the best way to provide services was merging all East Lancashire’s councils because of the ‘savage’ cuts imposed by the government.

The borough’s Tory leader Peter Britcliffe condemned Coun Lee’s scheme as a backward step.

He said: “I am violently opposed to any such plans. Bigger is not better in local government in terms of how the council can relate to their areas. I hope that this will remain on the back shelves.”

Coun Lee, who is writing to local government secretary Eric Pickles seeking backing, has won the approval of Blackburn’s Labour MP Jack Straw.

He said: “I think there is a very strong case for one or two unitary authorities in East Lancashire.”

Blackburn with Darwen council’s leader Kate Hollern supported the blueprint as ‘a good idea’ but her Burnley Labour counterpart Julie Cooper said it would be ‘deeply unpopular’ in her borough.

When Coun Lee revealed his plan at a meeting of Blackburn with Darwen council discussing £30 million spending cuts, Labour’s Dave Harling branded it ‘a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale’.

Coun Driver, facing Lancashire county elections in May, said: “The Government has made it clear, that local government reorganisation is simply not on their agenda.”

Burnley Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “I think this would be sensible. It could save millions.”

Local government minister Brandon Lewis said such restructuring would be “expensive and disruptive”.