RESIDENTS of a quiet Bolton backwater claim the drawn-out negotiations over the sale of a partially closed bridge to Smithills Open Farm are putting lives at risk.

Milk wagons, buses carrying visiting schoolchildren and visitors in cars are being forced to use the alternative unadopted access road, Moss Lea, to reach the popular farm because the bridge is too weak for heavy vehicles.

Farm owner Anthony Grimshaw is hoping to buy the bridge and the land it stands on so he can repair it and gain access to part of the land he farms and Smithills Dean Road via the grounds of Smithills Hall.

Moss Lea is on the other side of the farm, accessible by passing Thornleigh College in Sharples Park before turning left into what becomes a rough track.

“The amount of traffic coming down here now is dangerous,” said Moss Lea resident Mariann Young.

“There is a gully at the bottom of the road where it twists sharply towards the farm. Buses can barely get round the corner.

“It’s a crying shame because Mr Grimshaw runs a lovely farm which people from all over Bolton like visiting.”

Her neighbour, Pat Gleaves, said: “There appears to be some sort of problem between Mr Grimshaw and the council over the bridge which needs resolving before this is sorted out.”

Fellow resident Barbara Holden, meanwhile, has attended Astley Bridge area forum meetings where the problem has been discussed.

She said: “We are all worried about it, especially as Easter is approaching and there will be an increased number of people visiting the farm during the school holidays.”

Mr Grimshaw said he was intending to buy the bridge, but negotiations between his representatives and the council were ongoing.

“It is very frustrating for me also, because there is part of my land I cannot access in less than half an hour without using the bridge,” he said.

“The council wanted to take the bridge down and lay a new surface, which would only be a temporary measure.

“My plan is to take the bridge down and put in a longer culvert over the stream. I am hoping some progress will be made within the next two weeks.”

A spokesman from Bolton Council said: “All we can say at the moment is that we are still in negotiations with the farmer on the sale of the land and we hope to conclude them as soon as possible.”

The negotiations started after the dispute over the bridge came to a head at the end of January, as reported by The Bolton News.

Council staff were trapped on the bridge during an eight-hour stand-off in which farm workers used tractors and a car to block in local authority contractors.