WORKERS at the redundancy-hit Lambert Howarth shoe factory were today offered support from Burnley council as the axe fell on up to 200 jobs.

The town hall's economic development unit stepped in to offer advice, guidance and retraining as Burnley suffered its third major jobs blow this year.

The footwear company moved swiftly to announce it is to cease all production at the Healey Royd plant and gave details of likely redundancy levels as the news was exclusively revealed in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph. Management had insisted there would be no announcement until next week, but called hurried meetings to inform workers as the edition hit the streets.

A statement confirmed "drastic changes" to the Burnley plant with withdrawal from manufacturing, leaving many of the 200 employees facing the dole. The 110-year-old company says it hopes up to 46 Burnley employees will be able to fill vacancies elsewhere in the group, which has major production centres in Rossendale.

The Burnley plant, opened in 1938, will, as reported, be used only as a warehouse for the firm's imported footwear.

The statement, issued by works director Gary Smith, says change was forced by the need to keep pace with new production methods and changing customer preferences.

The decision had been sad and difficult, but unavoidable, said Mr Smith, who offered new hope for the giant plant as a major warehouse.

"We plan to expand its role, eventually creating a substantial number of new jobs," he said.

The company's other manufacturing centres would not be affected and the employees being made redundant in Burnley would be helped to find new employment during the 90-day notice period.

Mr Smith added: "Lambert Howarth was faced with a hard decision, but it would be wrong to compromise the successful and growing business operations elsewhere in the group by carrying the Burnley site into serious loss."

More than 300 jobs were lost in Burnley this year with the closure of Prestige, followed by news that Lucas planned to close one of its factories within two years.

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