Could Burnley have its first elected Mayor?

Observatory comp
Burnley Town Hall, by Peter Seavers
Observatory comp Burnley Town Hall, by Peter Seavers

Burnley folk will be asked to have their say in May to decide if the borough should have its first ever elected Mayor – a move which would completely change the face of local politics.

Prestwich-based landlord Mr Geoffrey Berg launched the unprecedented petition after becoming angry at Burnley Borough Council’s extension of its Selective Landlord Licensing scheme to several more areas of town.

The council is having to make massive savings due to Government imposed cuts and this is adding even more pain for hard pressed residents.

Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend

Burnley voters will now be asked to go to the ballot box on May 4th next year to decide whether Burnley should have an elected Mayor.

That petition, which called for the position of an elected Mayor to replace the position of council leader was signed by more than 4,000 residents, enough to trigger a referendum.

Mr Berg’s actions have been slammed by local councillors who branded it a waste of tax-payers’ money.

The council said it is still looking into the details, but the referendum is likely to cost around £80,000.

If the referendum results in a “yes” vote, the cost of the subsequent actual election for Mayor would be approximately £110,000.

But Mr Berg, who owns a house in Dall Street, was unrepentant. He said the landlord licensing scheme was having the opposite effect for which it was intended – by leading to more empty properties – and was creating too much bureaucracy for landlords.

He also accused Burnley Council of levying unfairly high Council Tax rates on the public in relation to neighbouring boroughs.

The landlord welcomed the news that a referendum will now be held.

Mr Berg, who triggered similar referendums in Bury and Salford, said: “I feel it’s a great opportunity for the people of Burnley to ensure that Council Tax in Burnley is no longer higher than all neighbouring councils.

But his bid to have a referendum has met with a furious response from Burnley councillors.

Council leader, Coun. Mark Townsend, who could potentially be replaced by an elected Mayor said a referendum would be “painful” for Burnley residents in this time of austerity.

He said: “I am frustrated that Mr Berg, a Manchester-based landlord, is forcing the council tax payers of the borough to cough up tens of thousands pounds to hold a referendum.

“The council is having to make massive savings due to Government imposed cuts and this is adding even more pain for hard pressed residents.

“Personally I think the existing council governance model has worked well for the current Labour and previous Liberal Democrat administrations and I look forward to a well argued campaign.

“No one has ever asked me to increase the number of politicians in Burnley so it will be interesting to see how much support there is for Mr Berg’s costly idea.”

Burnley Wood Labour Coun. Daniel Fleming pulled no punches in criticising Mr Berg’s actions.

Coun. Fleming said: “Mr Berg, an out-of-town landlord, who owns a property in Burnley Wood, has taken it upon himself to gather signatures, calling for a referendum.

“It is clear to me that Mr Berg is doing this out of spite. I do not think for one minute, that having an elected mayor is the top of anybody’s agenda.

“He is forcing a referendum, that nobody really cares about (at the cost of the council tax payers), to spite Burnley Council, for charging him a licence fee.

“I’m sure he is sat in his ivory tower, amused by all of this.

“Clearly, Mr Berg is unhappy that, as a landlord, the council wish to regulate his business with selective licensing.

“It would after all be in his interest that there were less controls and powers at the council’s disposal when it comes to dealing with slum landlords, because it means that he has to pay a licence fee.

“It is a sorry state of affairs that Burnley Council should need these additional powers, it is an extra cost that good landlords have to stand.

“Not all landlords however, are good landlords. Slum landlords can cause misery to local neighbourhoods.

“I am more than happy for the Mr Bergs of this world, for any other out-of-town landlords in fact, to pay a few extra quid for the benefit of the whole community.

“So I say to Mr Berg, don’t be so greedy, stop complaining and put your hands in your pocket because selective licensing is here to stay in Burnley Wood.”