"Burnley could lose one of its parks"

Thompson Park
Thompson Park
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Burnley could lose one of its parks should the public decide to vote for an elected Mayoral system in May.

That was the stark warning from Labour Coun. Marcus Johnstone at a public debate into a forthcoming historic referendum in Burnley.

The debate, held at the Burnley Miners' Club, on Wednesday evening, saw the leader of Burnley Council, Coun. Mark Townsend, go head to head with property landlord Mr Geoffrey Berg, who has triggered the referendum after collecting a 4,000 name petition.

Voters will go to the polls in less than a month’s time to decide whether they want a directly-elected, paid Mayor to run the borough council.

If the bid is backed, it would mean that the Mayor would replace the current council leader and oversee council policies and spending with the help of a Cabinet made up of councillors.

Mr Berg, from Prestwich, said he was opposed to Burnley Council's extension of the Selective Landlord Licensing scheme to Trinity ward, where he lets out a house.

The self-styled political campaigner said his other motivation to push for an elected Mayor was because Burnley's Council Tax rate was higher than eight neighbouring boroughs.

However, citing an example of a borough with an elected Mayor, Copeland in Cumbria, Coun. Johnstone said that public services had been cut there in order to fund a drop in Council Tax.

Coun. Johnstone said: "Copeland cut its Council Tax rates by having to cut services massively. One way would be to reduce the green services budget – in other words close a park.

“The idea of an elected Mayor is completely and utterly inappropriate for a district council.”

When pressed on which park he would close, But Mr Berg said that he would reduce the number of staff employed by the council to save money.

Mr Berg added: "Burnley Council is wasting money. It's unlikely any elected Mayor could continue to win elections with high Council Tax. This would lead to savings for Burnley people.

"This referendum was caused by justifiable protest. It's like sacking the manager of a football team that is bottom of the league."

But Coun. Townsend hit back and said that Burnley receives just 17% from Council Tax.

He said: "I think we perform miracles. Mr Berg talks of accountability and independence, but an elected Mayor would still have to deals with councillors. Also, in my position as leader I could be replaced any time by my party.

"An elected Mayor would be there for four years, and the system would be in place for 10 years. The bottom line is that Burnley Council asked Mr Berg to be a licensed landlord and because of that he's inflicted this referendum on us.

"We all need to get back to the real work of council - more jobs, better homes and a cleaner and greener borough. I say reject this proposition on May 4th."

The referendum for an elected Mayor will be on held on May 4th, the same day as the county and borough elections.