NEW proposals to turn protected green belt countryside between two boroughs into land for job-creating businesses have sparked fears for the ‘rural oasis’ that keeps them apart.

Tomorrow Hyndburn Council leader Cllr Miles Parkinson will outline long-term proposals to increase the area earmarked for employment in the next draft Local Plan to be published in the spring.

He will warn its cabinet that to meet its job-creation targets the new borough’s new development blueprint until 2036 may need to take land at Altham and between Rishton and Blackburn out of the green belt.

Cllr Parkinson’s Conservative counterpart Cllr Marlene Howarth: “We must protect the green belt in Hyndburn.

“I am particularly concerned about the rural oasis between Whitebirk and Rishton.

“We must keep the countryside barrier between Blackburn and Hyndburn.”

Her worries are shared by Rishton’s three councillors - Tory Michael Miller and Labour’s Jeff Scales and Katie Walsh - who fear proposed housing near Cut Lane and commercial developments close to the M65’s Junction 6 could squeeze the green land out of existence.

In his report Cllr Parkinson says: “The identification and allocation of strategic employment sites at Frontier Park and Altham in the first instance, and in the longer term land at Whitebirk, will necessitate a review of green belt.

“The potential sites at Altham and Whitebirk are both in the green belt and in order for the Green Belt boundary to be changed in either of these locations it will be necessary for the council to demonstrate that there are exceptional circumstances for this change. This justification will be undertaken as part of the local plan preparation.”

Cllr Miller said: “I can accept job-creating development near the M65 at Whitebirk but I do not want to see a pincer movement between employment land there and housing near Rishton. I shall consult residents for guidance on whether to oppose this.”

Cllr Scales said: “Creating jobs is very important but I am very concerned about proposals for large scale housing development near Cut Lane and Rishton. I would accept employment land near the M65 but only if the rest of the green belt barrier towards Blackburn, which is beautiful walking countryside, was protected from housing.

Cllr Parkinson said: “I can assure Rishton residents the countryside barrier, the rural oasis, between their town and Blackburn will remain. The needs of housing and employment will be considered together.”

Cllr Walsh said: “The countryside between Blackburn and Rishton needs to be protected.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council Conservative group leader Cllr John Slater said: “It is important the green belt barrier between our borough and Hyndburn remains.”

The area that could be taken out of protected status includes land south of Blackburn Road, Whitebirk; land between Blackburn Road and Side Beet Lane; and land north of the railway line off Side Beet Lane.