A MULTI-MILLION pound scheme to banish cars and breath new life into Blackburn town centre has been approved -- and is due to begin taking shape within months.

The decision to pedestrianise Church Street and the surrounding area was taken last night after months of consultation but traders said the move was commercial suicide and would drive shoppers away. Councillors hope the scheme will regenerate the area, attract investment and big-name high street shops into the town, and help it compete with other towns and cities across the North West.

Church Street, Temple Court and Grosvenor Way will be closed to through traffic, except permit holders and delivery vehicles.

Bridge Street and George Street will become one-way, and Jubilee Street will be one-way with contra-flow for buses and taxis.

But the project will also mean that two-way traffic will have to run along Railway Road next to the bus station, currently one-way for normal vehicles, causing fears that pedestrians could be in danger. The scheme is part of the £11million plan to create a orbital road to redirect traffic around the town centre and make the town more accessible to shoppers.

Councillors finally voted to close the Church Street area despite receiving more than 300 letters of objection and a 3,000-name petition against the plans.

Coun Ashley Whalley, chairman of regeneration, said the council had to move into the 21st century and closing Church Street was essential for the renewal of the whole town.

Other areas of the town are already pedestrianised and he said: "We have got to fight against developments in Preston, Bolton and Manchester. Are we just going to roll over and die? We have got to bring Blackburn into the 21st century to compete with these other towns. Just because one side of the town is growing it doesn't mean the other side will die.

"Just look what has happened in Manchester -- you cannot walk down a pavement in Manchester for all the pavement cafes full of people in all weather."

The scheme will be funded by £2million European cash and councillors feared that if they did not move quickly they would lose the money that was available.

Shopkeepers and market traders, led by hairdresser Jeff Stone, are looking at the possibility of appealing against the decision and protested before last night's meeting of Blackburn with Darwen Council's planning and highways committee

Mr Stone said: "None of these councillors seem to have any business acumen.

"The markets will be isolated by the closure of Church Street.

"You can't run a business when people can't get to it.

"This is commercial suicide. I have already lodged a complaint with the technical services department and I will be pursuing it."

Butcher Frank Littler, whose family has traded on Blackburn Market since 1860, said he now feared for the future of his livelihood.

He said: "The markets were declining before this decision because the council hasn't put back the money it has made out of them. "I am worried. My whole family works on my stall and it has to support three households."

Coun Alan Cottam, who voted against the scheme, said: "We are going to have carnage.

"People have to come from the shops to the bus, when it is raining and they are carrying shopping bags.

"I don't think it is acceptable to have a big flow of traffic through the bus station."

But Coun Andy Kay said that although he too had concerns about the two-way system he felt the scheme had to go ahead to allow the regeneration of the town centre.

He said: "The only problem I can see is the two-way traffic. But there will be traffic calming measures put in place and only then will Church Street close to through traffic."