By Gemma Bradley

AN online petition calling for a breakaway from Blackburn with Darwen Council for Darwen has passed the halfway point of its goal of 5,000 signatures.

Darwen Town independence, on, has been signed by 2,550 people but Dexit — as it has become affectionately known in recent years — has been on people’s minds for a lot longer.

Almost as soon as Blackburn and Darwen merged in 1974, Darwen residents claimed that they were being ‘left behind’ and their wishes ignored.

This most recent petition is at least the fourth in the past 20 years, often appearing after a new controversial decision by the borough council, such as recent planning applications for new houses to be built in Darwen in Pole Lane and Ellison Fold Way.

Councillor for Darwen East, Roy Davies, said: “What it comes across as, Darwen is a housing estate, and if you want anything, you go to Blackburn to buy it.”

Darwen locals have long accused Blackburn of neglecting the needs of the town, and investing more in Blackburn businesses rather than keeping traditional Darwen businesses alive.

This is something the borough council strongly denies.

Along with its partners this year it announced a bid for £25million of government cash to transform the town.

The Darwen Town Deal Investment Plan hopes to lever another £75m of private sector and council investment in to boost an improvement blueprint for the next ten years.

Proposals include:

* restoring the town’s Victorian market, creating a new food hall and ‘makers market’ to attract visitor;

* cash for Darwen’s library and Library Theatre and improved car parking.

* a new manufacturing development to put Darwen on the map nationally – harking back to its history;

* investment in ultrafast broadband.

Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Executive Member for Regeneration, Councillor Phil Riley said: “Under the current arrangements for local government there is no practical way in which Darwen will become independent from Blackburn.

“There are simply not mechanisms for small places like Darwen to have independence like they used to have in the 1960s.

“Every time we double check we find the amount of resources spent in Darwen is accurate reflections of the pro rata populations of Darwen and Blackburn.”

Some Darreners believe that Darwen is much more dependent on funding that comes through Blackburn than many realise, with several calling the idea of an independent Darwen ‘ludicrous’.

One Darwen resident said: “The calls for an independent Darwen have been gaining traction lately, but I fear that they are pretty emotional and not grounded in reality.

“Far from being good for the town, I fear it would be a disaster, in terms of funding and provisions of service.

“There is also the slight irony, that many people calling for independence, as they believe Darwen doesn’t get enough in terms of spending, have, as recently as last year, voted for an MP who is a member of the party who have imposed some of the biggest cuts seen, over the last decade.”

Jake Berry was elected as the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen in May 2010.

Darwen West Labour councillor, Brian Taylor said: “I don’t know the personalities involved in the petition, but I would bet that they don’t know how a council is run nor funded.”

However, many feel that the issues go deeper than money, with even smaller actions taken by the borough council becoming large issues of contention.

On a Facebook post regarding the petition, a Darwen resident replied: “Since we have been with Blackburn, Darwen has been left out of everything.”

Another added: “It is time we went back to being our own boss.”

A huge source of anger for those who live in Darwen is the installation of a statue of a peregrine falcon, but is more locally referred to as a ‘constipated looking roast chicken’.

Lancashire Telegraph: Peregrine Falcon in Darwen

Resident Jenny Glancy-Potter said: “It cost a fortune and I could have created something more visually pleasing with Playdoh.”

Bird issues aside, there are many core differences between Blackburn and Darwen, with some residents even refusing to step foot in Blackburn, choosing instead to go to Manchester for their shopping or leisure activities.

Often described as a unique town, this ‘Darwen identity’ offers enough of an incentive to want independence for many locals, with one Facebook response including a GIF of Donald Trump alongside a request for a wall to be built to keep people from Blackburn out.

Sunbird Records worker Ramsay Lohan said: “You feel part of Darwen more than you feel part of Blackburn With Darwen. Blackburn council know that the communication isn’t very good, there needs to be more of an effort to work together.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Sunbird Records, Dr Jonathan Lindley and Damien Coughlin, co- owners of Sunbird Records, Ramsay Lohan, employee

Sunbird Records, Dr Jonathan Lindley and Damien Coughlin, co- owners of Sunbird Records, Ramsay Lohan, employee

However many who do support an independent Darwen, do not believe total separation is a viable option financially.

Ex-leader of the ‘For Darwen’ Party, and ex-councillor for Darwen, Tony Melia said: “I don’t think it would be advantageous for an independent Darwen to run things like social services, education, big budget issues. There is cost and cost effectiveness in having all that together under one department.

“I certainly think that there could be more devolved powers for planning, planning is a very important issue for the people in the town, what comes and what’s decided etc.”

Further outrage has been sparked by the recent open letter written to the government by Lancashire County Council, proposing a larger East Lancashire unitary authority, that would include Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Pendle.

This ‘super-borough’ would replace Lancashire County Council, and aim to streamline decision making and increase available funds to each individual area as a result.

Burnley has stated outright that they would refuse to be part of such an authority, but the other local councils are proceeding with the request regardless.

Many in Darwen oppose this idea because they feel it would be ‘going backwards’, and brings them even further from their goal of independence.

Cllr Davies said: “It probably will happen because Blackburn want to do it and the problem is, that they will start feeling then the same as what Darwen feel, which is that we are being treated as second class citizens.”

Mr Melia said: “I can understand fully why Burnley don’t want to be part of it, because Blackburn would dominate the council authority.”

Those who do support the East Lancashire proposal, believe it is currently the best option for Darreners who want independence, as it will be more efficient and will guarantee them more funding on a local level.

Colin Rigby, Conservative for West Pennine said: “I have concerns about viability of Darwen, and indeed of Blackburn with Darwen on purely economic grounds and BwD is actively pursuing an East Lancs authority, which should be a more efficient economic unit.

“I do not believe that BwD can continue as a unitary authority, and in economic terms neither can Darwen.”