A DECISION to stage a snap by-election, after the resignation of a Ramsbottom councillor, has been slammed by the opposition.

Coun Joanne Columbine has stepped down from the seat she won for Labour three years ago, when she beat Conservative Robert Hodkinson after drawing straws, after receiving an equal number of votes.

Coun Columbine, who sat on Bury’s planning committee and has been deputy cabinet culture member, has said she wants to spend more time with her husband, who works in Dubai.

But her Tory rivals have questioned the merits – and cost – of staging a by-election for her seat on March 6, as borough-wide polls are destined for early May.

Speaking of her decision Coun Columbine said: “We both have been spending time apart in the past few years and it wasn’t suiting either of us. This decision is about me and my family. I simply want to be with the people I love. I am indebted to the people of Ramsbottom for voting me in. This wasn’t an easy decision.”

The councillor recently sparked controversy after she criticised a knitting campaign, backed by Tory councillors in Welwyn Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and local Conservative MP Grant Shapps, to provide hats to troops in Afganistan.

Council leader Coun Mike Connolly has paid tribute to her contribution to the borough and wished her well for the future.

Coun Ian Bevan, who also represents Ramsbottom alongside Labour’s Luise Fitzwalter, echoed Coun Connolly’s sentiments.