MORE than 550 jobs at one of East Lancashire’s largest employers have been saved following a management buy-out.

Darwen-based Crown Paints Ltd will return to British ownership following the multi-million-pound deal between the business’s management team and current owners Akzo Nobel.

Workers at Crown House, in Hollins Road, had feared they would lose their jobs after the Dutch company was ordered to sell the business by the European Commission.

The demand followed Akzo Nobel's purchase of chemical giant - and producer of Dulux - ICI, which created a monopoly of the paint market.

A foreign buyer may have led to the relocation of the Crown paints and the loss of 565 jobs at the Darwen site.

But the binding agreement, backed by professional investors, Endless LLP, means the business will remain in East Lancashire.

Crown Paints is Blackburn Rovers’ shirt sponsor, having recently struck a £5million deal with the club.

Howard Luft, chief executive of Crown Paints Ltd, said: "This is excellent news for the business and excellent news for Darwen - and all our employees.

"We are planning to invest £2.8 million in tanks for storing solvent based products - that's not something we would consider if we weren't sure about the future of the Darwen site."

He added: "Crown was always going to be sold because of the EU Commission's ruling and since December last year we have been going through quite a long process of finding the right partner.

"It is good to get to the point where we can provide positive reassurance to people."

Mr Luft said that Crown Paints, which produces leading brands including Sadolin, Sandtex, Macpherson and Berger, ’did not underestimate’ the current economic climate but would use the investment to move the company forward.

He added: "Now we want to see Crown Paint grow and prosper."

Endless LLP managing director, Warwick Ley, added: “Although market conditions are tough, we believe Crown is a brand well positioned for resurgence as evidenced by its recent growth in market share and feedback from key customers. This will be supported by a significant level of investment behind the business.”

The terms of the transaction are undisclosed but the deal is expected to be formally approved by the European Commission within the next two months.

The Akzo Nobel logo is already being removed from buildings at the site and replaced with the Crown Paints design.

Mr Luft added: "We are very keen to make sure we are a flagship industry in the area.

"Crown Paints will continue to be very much a part of Darwen.”

Crown Paints, which is based at Crown House, Hollins Road, Darwen, has been established in the town for over 100 years, also operating as Walpamur.