Plans to create two primary care trusts to cover a city centre are being fought by the local authority which says that it will divide the city along racial and social lines.

Leicester city council and voluntary groups believe that one 316,000 patient 'supertrust' should cover the city, to avoid polarisation and duplicating administration.

The city council's director of social services, Andrew Cozens, said: 'We are a unitary authority and a city-wide health action zone, so we think there is no real justification for splitting.'

And a Department of Health spokesperson confirmed: 'Size doesn't matter. It's what works locally and is right in terms of providing services and working with the local authority.'

At present Leicester is covered by three primary care groups, but Leicester health authority wants City Central PCG and Leicester East PCG to merge, serving around 170,000 people. The larger one, Leicester City West, will then look after 146,000 people in the west of the city.

But Mr Cozens said: 'East and Central PCGs have a high proportion of ethnic groups and small practices so it would not be appropriate on social grounds, or in relation to strategic cohesiveness, to group them together. We are also looking to create a single care trust for the area: it is logical that there is a coterminous PCT.'

Nearby Nottingham, which has a slightly smaller population than Leicester, has applied for single PCT status.

But Carolyn Clifton, chief executive of Leicester City Central PCG, said she supported the HA's two-trust plan: 'We don't believe it will lead to ghettoisation.

'It is interesting that this is the way the plan is perceived in other places. In our PCG the ethnic minority is the majority, and if you speak to voluntary groups here, they want to retain control over their own destiny. That is what we will be able to do if we merge with the Leicester East PCG.'

Jessica Watts, assistant director of strategy and development at the HA, said it had a 'clear desire' to work with the city council. The two-trust proposal took into account recognised population sizes: 'The nationally recognised level for a single trust is a population of between 100,000 and 250,000.

'It is extremely doubtful that ministers would give the go-ahead for one trust to have a patient core of some 316,000 - which is the case here. Leicester would have preferred a single trust, but we have to stay within guidelines.'

At present, the largest UK trust covers a population of 310,000.

The matter will go to Trent regional office later this month for a final decision.