Thousands of people in Bolton are fighting to leave Greater Manchester

These Boltonians are petitioning to return to Lancashire.

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Thousands of people in Bolton have put their name to a petition to leave Greater Manchester.

The petition for the borough to return to the county of Lancashire has been debated by the council following a groundswell of support.

The issue was discussed by the council as the petition had gained more than 2,500 signatures. A decision to rejoin Lancashire would result in major changes for the borough with a likely switch in who provides police, fire, public transport and waste management services to Bolton.

Such a drastic change in how local services are run would also require an Act of Parliament, like the one triggered in 1974, when Bolton left the county of Lancashire. Dylan Evans from Bolton for Change, organised the petition and put his case to the council.

He said: “In just a few short days we gathered more than 3,000 signatures. There are many reasons why we feel that Bolton would be best served by leaving Greater Manchester. We contribute millions of pounds every year and get very little back.

“Not a single person we spoke to thought that Bolton had improved by being taken out of Lancashire. The message was overwhelming, the people of Bolton want full control over all of their affairs. They do not want to be at Greater Manchester’s beck and call.We heard time and time again, ‘we are not Mancunians, we are Lancastrians’.”

Council leader, Nick Peel, said: “I’m a proud Lancastrian and always will be, but in terms of recognising our strong systems of partnership with GM neighbours, that works best. “There is no such thing as a Greater Manchester county council.

“The petition does state correctly that in 1974 Greater Manchester County Council was formed. The suggested name back then was not Greater Manchester but South Lancashire and if we’d have stuck with that some of these issues of identity might never have come up.

“Greater Manchester council was abolished in 1986. Instead we have very close collaboration with 10 authorities who work together on a city regional basis. This is the current combined authority. Put simply GMCA is the 10 local leaders who work with a directly elected regional Mayor. The GMCA has very limited power with many of its decisions needing to be ratified by each authority.

“Bolton is by and large its own master. We run our own services and make our own decisions.”

He added that the economic links that Bolton had with areas to the south like Manchester and Salford were stronger than with areas to the north like Chorley, Blackburn and Preston.

Dylan Evans presented the petition to Bolton Council and spoke in support of leaving Greater Manchester. Credit: LDRSDylan Evans presented the petition to Bolton Council and spoke in support of leaving Greater Manchester. Credit: LDRS
Dylan Evans presented the petition to Bolton Council and spoke in support of leaving Greater Manchester. Credit: LDRS

Coun Richard Silvester said he, like many other councillors, classed himself as a Lancastrian and at the unveiling of a red rose symbol in Victoria Square the then council leader had said ‘always in out hearts we will be a Lancashire town’. He said: “We have Lancashire red roses in our council chamber and on our coat of arms.”

He added that the administrative changes made in 1974 did not affect the historic boundary of the county palatine of Lancaster so Bolton still remained in the historic area of the county. Opposition leader Martyn Cox, said: “It’s now almost 50 years since the legislation was passed that took Bolton out of Lancashire and into Greater Manchester.

“It says something that we are still debating this as a hot issue. Place and where people are from, what they identify as is extremely important. I’ve always been slightly concerned about the ‘Manchesterisation’ of who we are. “I’m a big fan of the Bee Network and what we are trying to do for regional transport but the symbol of the buses is the bee, which is a Manchester symbol, yet it’s across 10 towns.

“I would caution that we do not see too much of Manchester as there are a number of town with extremely strong identities. I think the petitioners need to go further on clarity as they have not really identified what it is they want to take us into.

“Do they want us in the political county of Lancashire which would been a lot of the decisions now made in Bolton would be delivered by Preston? Or do you want us to be like Blackburn, a unitary authority separate from both Lancashire and Greater Manchester?”

He said on balance he was not minded for Bolton to move out of Greater Manchester. A motion proposed by Coun Peel in response to the petition was supported by a majority of councillors.

It said: “For the purpose of identity the council maintains its position that it has always been a part of the historic county of Lancashire. However for the purposes of certain administrative functions it works in partnership with nine other authorities as a part of the combined authority of Greater Manchester. For the purposes of these limited administrative functions a partnership with the GMCA is the best form of administration.”