UP to 160 jobs are under threat at a bus company after Blackburn was hit by another major manufacturing blow.

Half of the 320-strong workforce at Optare, Lower Phillips Road, Whitebirk, Blackburn, could be made redundant as the firm battles falling orders for its double deck buses.

Political leaders have described the potential losses as a “terrible blow” to the town.

The annoucement comes just weeks after the CD maker EDC said it was to close its Whitebirk plant with the loss of 200 jobs.

Optare bosses said they had been left with no alternative because of a recent downturn in the bus manufacturing sector.

A 90-day consultation is under way and all employees have been sent letters explaining the decision.

Falling demand for double deck buses, which form the basis for much of the work at the Blackburn plant led bosses to announce the cuts.

The firm’s planned move from its current site to a new factory at Walker Park, Guide, has also been scrapped as a result of the recession.

John Fickling, Optare chairman said: “Optare remains committed to the double deck market. We continue to provide a further choice to operators not just for body on chassis vehicles but shortly an integral double deck vehicle also.

“However, we are taking appropriate action to mitigate the impact of the current reduced demand for these vehicles so that our business is in a healthy position to maximise opportunities as the market improves.”

Optare said it had seen strong demand in the first few months of 2009 but had seen this reduce as the year wore on.

It added that there was not enough work to sustain current levels of employment when the current orders were completed, At this stage the Leeds site, where the majority of Optare’s single deck buses are made, remained unaffected.

But Blackburn MP Jack Straw said he would be trying to speak with Optare chiefs when he was in the town today (Fri).

He said: “I will be talking to them over night and hope to talk to them as soon as possible over this very worrying annoucnement.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Michael Lee said it would do all it could to save jobs and help out workers.

He said: “This is terrible news and we will be sending in a redundancy taskforce to the factory as soon as possible.

“A number of companies in the manufacuting sector are struggling so it won’t be an easy one to tackle.

“It is worrying for the town as it comes on the back of the EDC job losses. We will do all we can to help those workers affected by it.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council opposition leader Kate Hollern added: “The council needs to act quickly to save these jobs and should do all it can to help.

“It is dreadful news and very worrying for those concerned.”

Shadsworth and Whitebirk ward councillor Tony Humphrys also expressed his shock at the announcment.

He said: “This is a real disappointment because we were hoping they would safeguard jobs, not make redundancies.

“This will have a devastating affect on those who lose their jobs and it is the last thing we needed in the current economic climate.”

Earlier this month the firm announced the appointment of a new chief executive.

Jim Sumner, current managing director at Leyland Trucks, will take up the post from June 1.