FRESH calls have been made for Darwen to be granted a Brexit-style split from Blackburn.

Liberal Democrats are calling for 'Darw-exit' following a special meeting of the group.

They want more powers and funding for the town and are looking at three options, one of which would break up the borough of Blackburn with Darwen.

The Lib Dems have received support from local MP and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry and Tory group leader John Slater — and strong support from local residents.



Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also said he would listen to the views of the town if elected Prime Minister.

But local Labour councillors and deputy borough leader Phil Riley have dismissed the idea as a 'non-starter'.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr David Foster said: "We are exploring three options and are prepared to break with Blackburn.

"We have seen how Darwen has been badly treated by the unitary borough which always puts Blackburn first — notably over the closure and demolition of the three-day market.

"One option is an area committee of Blackburn with Darwen Council with delegated powers and responsibilities as with towns in Pendle.

"The second is delegating new powers to the town council such as markets, parks, and street cleaning with pro-rata funding.

"And the third, and most radical, is breaking completely and joining the neighbouring Rossendale authority.

"We are starting a debate gathering people's views and are looking for cross-party support."

Conservatives leader Cllr Slater said: "We would consider supporting this campaign provided one of the options is merging Darwen, including my Fernhurst Ward and the surrounding villages, with Rossendale.

"I feel that a new borough based on the Rossendale and Darwen constituency is the only viable way forward.

"We have seen how the current borough treats Darwen spending £6.5million on a new cinema in Blackburn town centre but not coming forward with a proper replacement of the Three Day Market Hall."

The plans have had backing from Darreners from across the town.

John Pocock, of Burns Walk, said: "Blackburn are treating us like the poor relatives.

"Is it not high time Darwen either got parity or went it alone?

"The continual underfunding and treatment from Blackburn with Darwen is nothing short of disgusting."

Lynne Jackson, of Haslingden Road, said: "It is absolutely disgusting that Darwen has to provide its own flowers and even water them themselves whilst Blackburn puts on a display second to none.

"I have always said Darwen is always classed as the poor relation."

Cllr Riley said: "It is not feasible or financially viable. All the evidence is that Darwen receives it fair share of funding and we are investing substantially in the replacement square for the market hall and the new Darwen East Distributor Road which will open up land for new housing."

Darwen was a separate municipal borough from 1978 to 1974 when it was merged with Blackburn as part of the Lancashire County Council local authority area.

In 1997 the all-purpose authority of Blackburn with Darwen was created acquiring powers over education, highways and economic development and social services.

The Lib Dem group says it will now carry out street and social media surveys, then a stall in the town centre, and finally a major public meeting to discuss the preferred options with residents.

Councillors believe that the government's plans for Northern Powerhouse devolution and the possible creation of a Lancashire Combined Authority will create a chance to achieve the campaign's aims.

Northern Powerhouse minister Mr Berry said: "The people of Darwen have made it clear that they want more power to be returned to the Darwen.

"The team up between Blackburn and Darwen has led to benefits for both parties. However Blackburn needs to focus more on the re-development of Darwen.

"If they are not willing to do that it might be time for Darwen to take back power from Blackburn."

Cllr Roy Davies, who launched a petition to separate Darwen from Blackburn 15 years ago, said: "It's something that is being talked about a lot. People feel like they are not being treated equally.

"It's ludicrous that we have to share our MP with Rossendale but Blackburn gets its own."

Labour leader Mr Corbyn said: "I hear what is being said locally and people have to be represented in what ever local authority structures there are.

"We have been discussing the need for longer term devolution which goes beyond Greater Manchester and we will be consulting on that within the Labour Party.

"We would look at issues like this — but the problems facing local government are much more about underfunding than the lines on the map."

Labour's Cllr Dave Smith said: "It's not going to happen. It would require an order from central government and they have no intention of doing it."

Cllr Peter Hollings added: "It is not feasible full stop. It would cost the Darwen tax payers thousands and thousands."

Rossendale council leader Alyson Barnes said: "It has to be workable. I recognise Darwen feels it is the poor relation in that arrangement. I think people need the make sure that Darwen feels that it is fair."