Combined authority ‘will threaten independence’

Blackpool Town Hall

Blackpool Town Hall

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Blackpool Council has voted to become part of a proposed Lancashire Combined Authority despite claims the move would threaten its independence.

The decision, made at last night’s full meeting of the council, was reached by a majority of 28 votes in favour to eight against, with two abstentions, with members of the minority Conservative group opposing the move.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn admitted he had some concerns about how the system, which would also include an elected mayor for Lancashire, would work but warned it was the only mechanism available to enable Lancashire to secure devolved powers from central government on key issues such as housing and transport.

He said: “This is the only game in town. I say we take it with both hands and turn the devolution deal into something that will deliver for the people of Blackpool.”

But Tory councillor Maxine Callow said the move would weaken the town’s status as a unitary authority which had been gained after a long fight in 1998.

She said: “Here in Blackpool we are unique. As a county councillor I felt I didn’t have a lot in common with councillors from other areas which weren’t seaside resorts.

“We could easily be shouted down or swallowed up if we don’t agree.”

She added: “We fought long and hard for Blackpool to be unitary. I would be more in favour of a city of the Fylde where we embrace our neighbours on each side.”

But Coun Ivan Taylor, who led the Labour administration which secured unitary status, said despite his initial scepticism, he now believed being part of the combined authority was the way forward.

He said: “I am now satisfied this is not about our existing powers, they will remain as they are. It is about some of the functions which inevitably even after we became a unitary authority, we had to act on on a Lancashire wide basis, such as housing and transport.”

He said among the devolved powers the council could secure would be to control housing benefit and use it as a tool to ensure landlords maintained their properties and controlled their tenants.

The council agreed to become a constituent member of a Lancashire Combined Authority and submit proposals to the Government.

All 15 councils in Lancashire are voting on the issue, with Lancashire County Council among those which have already agreed to the proposals.