RESIDENTS in a rural community turned out in force last night to tell developers in no uncertain terms: "Hands off our village."

Around 200 villagers packed into Worsthorne's St John the Evangelist Church for a planning meeting which was originally due to take place in the nearby Reading Rooms.

The venue was swapped because of the number of people who attended the meeting and residents were initially redirected to the village green.

But parish councillors Philip Walsh, Tony Lambert and Carole Galbraith were forced to switch for a second time when it began to rain.

And so, with the image of St Cecelia gazing down on him from one of the church windows, planning officer Michael Wellock climbed into the pulpit and told the assembled crowd the council was ready to back their opposition to development.

Around 700 people have already signed a petition organised by the Keep Worsthorne with Hurstwood Rural.

Mr Wellock added: "As far as the council is concerned we want to maintain the tight urban boundary that was drawn up in 1991.

"The council's reasons for keeping the area rural are numerous but basically it is to try and focus development back into the urban area.

"Back onto some of the cleared sites. It is all about generating brownfield sites in inner Burnley rather than greenfield sites on the outskirts."

The development of houses on the site of the old Trafalgar flats was, according to Mr Wellock, proof that brownfield sites could be developed successfully.

Because of objections to the Local Plan Mr Wellock said a public enquiry was likely to be held in the future.

The Burnley Local Plan, drawn up by the council, sets out planning proposals for the Burnley borough for the next 15 years.

The "tight urban boundary" will be maintained by following government directives and developing brownfield sites wherever possible.

But developers have asked for large areas of land surrounding Worsthorne and Hurstwood to be taken out of the Local Plan so that houses can be built.

Vernon Pinner, 79, of Ravenoak Lane, said development would ruin the character of the village. Mr Pinner added: "It would spoil the whole village. It is so friendly and everybody knows each other, that would be lost."

Freda Kippax, 73, also of Ravenoak Lane, said: "We don't want to lose our village, it's as simple as that. We don't want to lose rural to urban. I am definitely against development."

Villagers were urged to write letters backing the Local Plan by county councillor Stephen Large. He added: "Write letters so there can be no doubt as to the strength of feeling. We have got to stick together. The gauntlet is down, pick it up and run with it."

Burnley Council leader Stuart Caddy was also at the meeting and said he was backing the villagers' plight.

Coun Caddy added: "I am 100 per cent behind the Local Plan. We have enough brownfield sites to develop in Burnley."

But not everyone is against development. One man told the meeting the village was short of executive type housing and housing for young families.

Another said he had an eight-acre plot of land he wanted to develop.