THE developers behind the controversial plans to convert Smithills Coaching House in Bolton into homes have said they will protect the “integrity” of the green belt land.

But campaigners, who lost their fight to have the application refused, say the development will “inevitably damage” the area.

For the first time since winning planning permission to convert the 17th Century Victorian Grade II listed building into eight properties and to build a further 21 houses on surrounding green belt, the regional boss of Jones Homes has spoken about the plans.

It comes after Government Communities Secretary Eric Pickles made the decision not to step in and prevent the scheme from going ahead, despite it being on protected green belt and a heritage site.

Joe Savage, regional director of Jones Homes, said its development will prevent Smithills Coaching House from falling into disrepair.

He said: “The plans for Smithills Coaching House ensure the integrity of the green belt land will remain, with minimal tree and vegetation loss, while utilising the mature woodland to screen the proposed properties.

“Our plans for Smithills Coaching House are simply stunning and represent a sympathetic renovation and conversion of the Grade II listed building.

“We will return the building to its original condition and footprint, protecting it from ruin and preserving it for future years.”

The company, which was set up 50 years ago, has experience in restoration projects and converted the derelict 1860’s building The School House, at Clevelands, in Chorley New Road, into six apartments.

Bosses said the project would “secure the future” of the Coaching House.

But Smithills councillor Roger Hayes, who has campaigned against the plans, said: “The decision has been made so we have to hope it does as little damage as possible but it is inevitably going to do damage and the worry is that it sets a precedent for other green belt sites in the area. I don’t see how building 21 houses on the green belt protects it.”