A STATUE in honour of former Blackburn MP Barbara Castle has been shelved after a council leader said he had "more important things" to consider.

A memorial to former Cabinet minister Baroness Castle, who represented the town at Westminster from 1945 to 1974, was announced last year by ruling Labour councillors .

Plans were at an advanced stage and a site had been identified at Sudell Cross in the town.

But the then Tory opposition leader Council Colin Rigby said the scheme was a waste of time and money, especially as the Baroness already had a road in the town named after her.

Now Coun Rigby, who became leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council when a coalition ousted Labour from power in May, has said the statue is "not a priority" and that there were many other areas where money could be better spent.

Labour leader Coun Kate Hollern said: "I think it's extremely disappointing, and a petty thing to do because they don't want to recognise a Labour MP.

"There was a great deal of support for this at the time, and this is a shame, because she was an amazing personality and put Blackburn on the map. We should commemorate her."

And MP Jack Straw said, who once worked for Barbara Castle, said: "I hope this won't become a party political issue. There are statues around the town of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, and Barbara Castle was a key figure in the development of Blackburn."

Darwen MP Janet Anderson previously said that any decision to axe the statue plans would be an insult to Baroness Castle's memory.

Most of the funding for the statue, around £50,000, was to be provided by the Barbara Castle Trust but thousands of pound would have also come from private subscribers.

Coun Rigby said: "As I have said previously, there is Barbara Castle Way and Capita named their headquarters, Castleway House, after her. How many more memorials do you need?

"I am trying to get the Pennine Lancashire regeneration scheme off the ground, and the City Development Company which will help promote the area's interests, and I am trying to ensure we receive sufficient money from Elevate to help regeneration work.

"I've got more important things to be concerned about than statues at the moment . To be honest I've not really thought about it because it is not a priority."

He said if Labour supporters locally wanted to fund the statue, and provide the site, then he would not stand in their way.

But Trust officials said they would not proceed with the project without the co-operation of the Council.

Baroness Castle, described as a "pioneer" in women's politics by Tony Blair, died in May 2002 at her Buckinghamshire home, aged 91.

The campaigning MP was a Transport Secretary in the mid-60s and was responsible for the introduction of breathalysers, compulsory seatbelts for cars and the 70mph limit on motorways.

Her stints as Employment Secretary and Social Security Secretary in the early and mid-70s saw the MP bring in equal pay legislation, child benefit paid directly to mothers and earnings-related pensions.

Later she became a Euro MP and became a life peer in 1990, taking on the title Baroness Castle of Blackburn in tribute to her former seat.

Born in Chesterfield, she was brought up in Bradford and Pontefract. She never lived in Blackburn.

Phil Riley, secretary of the Barbara Castle Trust, said: "Without the council's co-operation we do not have access to public space. If we do not have their support I do not see how it can go ahead."

Blackburn's first mayor, William Hornby, is already honoured by a statue in the town, and Labour stalwart Coun Malcolm Doherty said the former MP should get the same treatment.

He said: "She was one of the most influential people Blackburn has had, in terms of what she did nationally and in the borough.

"It's a little bit churlish, and I think it's a sad day for the town if this doesn't go ahead. "She was MP for a long time and we have always treated our MPs with respect, regardless of party politics."