THE British National Party has been quietly running an office in Burnley town centre for up to nine years, the Lancashire Telegraph can reveal.

The low-key office, just metres from Burnley town hall, is not mentioned in the far-right party’s literature or on its website – and most residents and even seasoned local politicians were unaware it existed.

But it is now set to become more widely used after the party shelved a search for a North West headquarters somewhere in East Lancashire, with party leader and recently-elected MEP Nick Griffin using it as his base in the area.

The BNP’s political opponents have slammed the party for not advertising the fact that it already had a permanent presence in the town, in Yorke Street, which it uses to print and distribute leaflets and co-ordinate local election strategy.

Local activists insisted the second-floor rented office, which is identifiable only by a small “British Heritage” sign on the door, was no secret.

But Lib Dem council leader Gordon Birtwistle said only “very, very few” people were aware of it.

He added: “Outside their membership I would not have thought anyone knew. If they had been open about it, they would not have used a pseudonym and it would be on their leaflets.

“If they want to be taken seriously they should be open so people know if they want to visit them they can do.”

On the party’s website and leaflets, a PO Box address is given, and no posters are displayed in the windows, unlike other political parties.

Mr Griffin, who last week appeared on BBC One’s Question Time, watched by more than eight million people, insisted it was “widely known” the party had an office in Burnley.

But former long-serving Burnley MP Peter Pike, now a well-known community volunteer and chairman of Burnley Labour Party, said: “I certainly was not aware of it.

“It comes as a complete surprise to me. I am certain it’s not widely known.

"They need to be more up-front. When I was MP everyone knew where my office was.”

Surrounding business owners, who did not want to be named, said the party had “not wanted to make a fuss” when it moved in, and some weren’t even sure which part of the building it used.

A worker at the charity Mid Pennine Arts, in Yorke Street, said she had no idea the BNP were based opposite.

At the weekend shoppers in the town centre gave their reaction.

Zafar Dhami, 55, of Manchester Road, said: “I did not know they had an office here, and I am very surprised.

"It’s understandable they don’t advertise it, they are probably worried about being targeted.”

Elaine Heywood, 37, of East Road, said: “It makes you wonder what they have got to hide.

"They are supposed to be a major political party now, but they are not being open and transparent. You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

And Brent Barnes, 65, who lives in Higham, added: “I am surprised, I didn’t know they had an office in the town.

"Of course they should be up front. They shouldn’t be hiding behind anything.”

After Mr Griffin was elected to the European Parliament in June, East Lancashire BNP activists were told to search for a North West headquarters, with Padiham Town Hall and the former Derby Arms pub at Gannow Top in Burnley seen as possibilities.

But last month Mr Griffin claimed their efforts were being frustrated by landlords pulling out at the last minute.

At no point during the search did the party refer to its existing Burnley headquarters.

On Friday, following his Question Time appearance, Mr Griffin told the Lancashire Telegraph the party had decided on Cumbria for its main HQ but would be “making more use” of its Burnley office, which the party had rented for “a couple of years”.

Burnley BNP leader Sharon Wilkinson said: “We did think about getting a different office, but we are getting a main one in Carlisle, so we are not going to get another one now.

"We are going to utilise what we have got.”

She added: “We have an office, we have had it since 2002.

"Most people know where we are. Most of the information is in the public domain.

“The reason we don’t have posters is because there’s nowhere to put them.

“We are waiting for extra equipment to go in there. Nick Griffin will use it when he comes up here. “ Asked why the sign outside said “British Heritage”, rather than the BNP’s name, she said: “Don’t ask me why.

"That plate has always been there.”