MORE action is needed to bring different communities in Blackburn with Darwen together says a new report.

The strategy to promote social integration admits the South Asian heritage and white communities in the borough often live in different neighbourhoods.

The report found great strides had been made in recent years to bring people of different cultural backgrounds together and sets out an action plan for the future.

However on leading community cohesion expert said he believed, despite these efforts, the borough was ‘becoming more segregated not less’.

Blackburn with Darwen council leader Mohammed Khan, who will launch a consultation on a new draft ‘Social Integration Strategy 2017 -2020’ today, said: “This is a very important issue for our people.

“It is about individuals developing their full potential and communities making the most of the opportunities each offers the other.”

He said since he came to the borough in 1965 from Pakistan he had seen major changes for the better with areas such as Beardwood, Lammack and the Ashworth Close and Denville estates in his Wensley Fold ward becoming more mixed and integrated.

Professor Ted Cantle of the Institute of Community Cohesion, who wrote the report on the Burnley riots in 2001, which spoke of different communities living ‘parallel lives’ disagreed.

While admitting the borough had ‘done more than most areas to build bridges between communities’ he said: “I believe Blackburn with Darwen is becoming more segregated not less.

“This is a worthy document but it needs to be more ambitious.

“In parts of the borough people from different communities are living parallel lives.”

Professor Cantle praised the integration work of Blackburn Youth Zone, where he last month debated the issue with its chairman and former MP Jack Straw.

It highlights key issues and actions including linking schools with different ethnic make-ups together, teaching English, holding cross-community events, and promoting skills, employment and diverse workplaces.

A key element of the strategy is a new linking programme for 2017/18 involving 30 schools with pupils from predominantly different communities spending time in each others’ classrooms, promoting shared after-lessons events and going on trips together.

It also includes a drive to improve the English speaking skills of those for whom it is second language in schools, workplaces and wider community.

The strategy pledges action to tackle unemployment, create diverse workplaces and boost skills to ensure a level playing field in finding jobs and progressing their careers.

It wants to tackle the problem of people commuting into the borough from elsewhere for its better-paid jobs and prepare local residents for them instead.

The report, led by Cllr Khan and council chief executive Harry Catherall, concludes: “We recognise that there is a physical segregation of communities purely on the basis of where they live.

“To a greater extent this is historical. We cannot turn back the clock or socially engineer neighbourhoods.

“We can however facilitate, influence and develop opportunities to respect difference and to promote an environment in which communities have access to the same opportunities, life chances and choice.”

Key objectives of the strategy include:

* providing opportunities for children and young people to meet and build new relationships

* developing neighbourhoods in which people value and support each other

* a targeted skills strategy to raise the aspirations of underachieving communities and increase representation in the labour market

* promoting a commitment to workforce representation, equality and investing in people

* tackling hate crime so ‘every person in the borough should be free to live a life without fear of abuse or attack

* working with children, young people and families to challenge and eliminate distrust, isolation and divisions

The council will seek grants from a special government ‘Controlling Migration Fund’ of £100 million over four years to support the strategy, which is due for final approval in December.

The report adds: “Social integration is crucial in diverse places like Blackburn with Darwen.

“It’s absence has the potential to create a range of issues from minor neighbourhood community tensions to more serious public disorder and unrest.”

Mr Straw said: “People from different communities to live in geographically different areas but this is not segregation.

“They interact and mix far more than they used to now, both socially and in the workplace.

“The borough council has done a lot of work on this for 20 years and this strategy is a good document looking to the future.”

Cllr David Foster, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, backed the document.

He added: “What we need is more ordinary people from different backgrounds doing more ordinary things together.”

Cllr John Slater, leader of the council’s Tory group, said: “Professor Cantle is right. Blackburn with Darwen is becoming more segregated. I and my group will study this strategy carefully and submit our views to the consultation.”