Councillors dismissed the idea of a referendum for Bolton to return to Lancashire after a debate at the town hall – but the issue divided the council chamber.

The borough became a part of Greater Manchester almost 50 years ago after the introduction of The Local Government Act by the Ted Heath administration.

Recently Bolton for Change, a local party, started a campaign for a referendum for Bolton to return to Lancashire. On May 30, it revealed a petition received more than 3,000 signatures, which sparked a debate at the town hall.

On Wednesday, the local party's Dylan Evans started the debate with a speech about the town's ties to its historic county.

READ MORE: Call for Bolton to return to Lancashire could not be ignored.

Mr Evans: "There are a lot of reasons why we feel we are better served by leaving Greater Manchester. We contribute millions of pounds per year and we get little back apart from a few yellow buses which won’t run on time. 

"Not one person we spoke to felt Bolton improved in the decades after it was taken out of Lancashire without any say."

The Bolton News: Dylan EvansDylan Evans (Image: Bolton Council)

Nick Peel, who leads Bolton Council and who sits on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), argued this is the 'best form of administration'. 

He asked colleagues to support a motion along these lines.

READ MORE: Debate for Bolton to return to Lancashire after petition.

Cllr Peel said: "For the purposes of identity, this council maintains its position it's always been a part of the historic county of Lancashire. 

"However, for the purposes of some administrative functions it works in partnership with other local authorities as part of the GMCA. The council believes for the purposes of these administrative functions this partnership is the best form of administration to benefit the residents of Bolton."

Martyn Cox, who leads the opposition, agreed with Cllr Peel about the benefit of belonging to the combined authority.

But he cautioned against what he called 'Manchesterisation' and did not rule out the possibility of a referendum one day.

Cllr Cox said: "I would caution we don't see too much 'Manchesterisation' because within Greater Manchester we've got a number of towns with strong identities and they don’t want to lose these identities. 

"We would save ourselves a lot of trouble if we called ourselves South Lancashire. If you look across the border to Yorkshire it's not Greater Leeds, it's West Yorkshire, it's not Greater Sheffield, it's South Yorkshire, and I think the government at the time made a mistake in not doing this in our region."

Others went stronger still and called for the process of a referendum to be started as soon as possible, a process which would call for an Act of Parliament.

However, after a vote, the motion proposed by Cllr Peel passed by a margin of 18 votes.

This article was written by Jack Tooth. To contact him, email or follow @JTRTooth on Twitter.