Independence bid goes to Whitehall

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

CAMPAIGNERS are refusing to accept Wigan Council’s decision to end their independence dream.

Supporters of an Atherton town council are now preparing a petition demanding the intervention of Communities Minister Eric Pickles in the row which has raged since the ruling Labour Cabinet rejected the result of a Governance Review.

Council chiefs said that, despite overwhelming support from those who voted (over 90 per cent), the turn-out was too low to require changing the local authority status quo and create another level of democracy on top of the borough council.

The petition, which will be formally launched in Market Street tomorrow morning, asks Government heavyweight Mr Pickles to revise the legislation in the Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 which controls this branch of local government organisation.

It wants the law changing so that an appeal can be made to the Secretary of State if a council refuses to accept the results of a Community Governance Review regardless of turn-out size.

And if the minister upholds the appeal, he or she can insist that the council holds a referendum in the area designated by the petition, on or before the date of the next Local Election. If the referendum results in a two thirds majority or over of residents taking part, being in favour of a Parish/Town Council, the result would be binding on the council.

Proposer Coun Norman Bradbury said the group is also considering whether to apply for a judicial review over the methods used by the council in the poll. They claim it “disenfranchised” at least 65 per cent of residents who were not computer owners and online.

They remain angry about the alleged lack of publicity about the Community Governance Review and claim a “lack of knowledge” among council staff in Life Centres and libraries when dealing with public inquiries about it.

It was pointed out at a recent full council meeting though that one reason turn-out was so low was because leaflets distributed by the pro-town council lobby had the wrong website link on them.

And Labour cabinet member and Atherleigh councillor Susan Loudon said residents wouldn’t want to fund an “unnecessary” extra level of local government in any case.

She added: “This sounds like ‘if the majority of people in Atherton do not want a town council, we will go to the Government and make them have it and we will make them pay!’ The Council has promised, again, to freeze council tax to help our residents deal with the financial crisis that this country is in, but Coun Bradbury and his small band want to charge extra council tax in Atherton.

“Once they are able to do that, they can raise that as much as they see fit, to fund their pet areas, themes and buildings and the residents of Atherton will not be able to stop them.”