Janet & Greg defend Rossendale from Bury takeover
Local MPs Janet Anderson and Greg Pope in a Commons debate defended Rossendale from being run from Bury. This is what they told the House:
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) for allowing me to speak in this debate for what will necessarily now be a very brief time. He has put forward an interesting proposal, but I am astonished that he has done so. I am especially surprised because my hon. Friend is no stranger to the Rossendale valley. He of all people should therefore understand that rural Rossendale and urban Bury have very little in common.
Recent research on behalf of the boundary committee found that 68 per cent. of Rossendale residents feel strongly about belonging to Rossendale. Some 71 per cent. feel strongly about belonging to the county of Lancashire and 71 per cent. have stated a preference for one of the options put forward by the boundary committee. I must also refute my hon. Friend's allegations that Rossendale borough council has not undertaken the widest possible consultation: it has. In fact, only 4 per cent. of residents expressed a preference for another option. In any case, there is no other option. The third option exists only in the fertile imagination of my hon. Friend. Our priority must be the delivery of services and effective local government for the people of Rossendale.
Rossendale council gives the highest priority to the improvement of its delivery of services. The September 2002 corporate governance report found that the council delivered unacceptably poor services at high cost. That has been followed up by the recent comprehensive performance assessment process, which has identified Rossendale borough council as poor, although it is now making significant improvements. However, Bury council, as my hon. Friend has stated, has recently moved up from "weak" to "fair" in the comprehensive performance assessment. He can argue that that a "fair" assessment is unfair, but that is the assessment at the moment. By contrast, both Pendle and Burnley are already rated as "good". We consider that these ratings and the sustained quality of service that they represent form a sound basis for the delivery of high performance in a new unitary authority of Rossendale, Burnley and Pendle. That is why the controlling Labour group on the council has been unanimous for a Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale authority, and that is why the majority of councillors of all parties support that option. My hon. Friend referred to Conservative support, but only three Conservative councillors gave that support.
I urge the Minister to listen to the people of Rossendale and to consign this madcap fantasy to the dustbin where it rightly belongs.
Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn) (Lab): I shall be very brief. If we wanted evidence for what a madcap scheme merging Bury with Rossendale would be, it is provided by the fact that the idea is supported by three Rossendale Conservative councillors.
There is a compelling case for unitary local government in east Lancashire, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the good case for decoupling it from regional government. Unitary authorities are a good idea or they are not—I think that they are. There is a strong case for a unitary east Lancashire authority, but I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) that such an authority may be too large. In that case, there is a compelling case for a unitary authority of Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.
The people I represent in Haslingden do not want to be run from Bury. I do not think that my hon. Friend has made a case and, as time is short, I shall leave it at that. However, I hope that the Minister and the boundary committee will take note of the fact that the people of Haslingden do not want to be run from Bury.