CONTROVERSIAL plans to redevelop Smithills Coaching house have been recommended for approval — despite an expert’s claims they could cause “substantial harm” to an important piece of local heritage.

A long-delayed council meeting to discuss plans by Jones Homes to convert the grade II-listed building into properties and build 21 houses on surrounding green belt land is due to take place on Thursday.

Planning chiefs are recommended to back the scheme and delegate final approval to the authority’s development director pending the signing of a legal agreement to fund parking and landscaping improvements. But the plans would still need to be given final approval by the Secretary of State because it is in the green belt.

The meeting was originally due to take place on August 23, but was scrapped after English Heritage — the organisation responsible for the country’s historic buildings — lodged an objection which Jones Homes asked for time to consider.

The firm resubmitted altered plans and the meeting was rescheduled for November 29, but was scrapped again — this time after English Heritage asked for more time to examine the changes.

But after considering the new plans English Heritage has still not withdrawn its objections.

Concerns have also been raised by Paul Hartley, the chairman of Greater Manchester Conservation Officers Group, who said: “The scheme would cause substantial harm to the significance of designated heritage assets of national importance”.

His claim is refuted by Jones Homes, and bosses say his report was “highly subjective”.

The Coaching House had been run as a restaurant for 46 years before its closure at the end of August, and Jones Homes says its plans will prevent the building falling into ruin.

Smithills councillor Roger Hayes said: “I believe that there are other ways to preserve the coaching house without doing such damage to the setting of the hall and on Thursday I will try to persuade the planning committee that they should take a longer term view of Bolton’s assets and also protect the green belt.”

A Jones Homes spokesman said: “We have responded to the best of our ability to the requests of English Heritage in making the changes and are happy to work with them in more detail if the principle of the development is agreed.

“We feel our proposals are sympathetic to the listed building and its surroundings.”