THE Market Place will be transformed into a cinema, shopping, restaurant and bar complex — despite strong objection and the threat of legal action from rival centre Crompton Place.
Both have submitted plans to build a cinema in the past year, with a promise to regenerate the town centre and make it more family-friendly in the evenings.
And yesterday councillors on Bolton Council’s planning committee unanimously approved the Market Place’s three applications — despite Santander, the owners of Crompton Place, insisting it was not the right location for a cinema.
The Moorgarth group, which owns the Market Place, can now start work opening up the vaulted basements to make way for restaurants and bars and building a nine-screen cinema, run by Light Cinemas, by partially demolishing the existing car park.
Moorgarth also received listed building consent to create new shop fronts in the Grade-II listed Market Hall, relocate listed telephone boxes in Bridge Street and create a new atrium roof at junction between the Market Hall and North Mall Planning permission had been given in January to build a cinema, but Moorgarth had to take the application back to committee following a change in the design.
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It has emerged that Santander, the owner of Crompton Place, had requested a judicial review of this decision but this was knocked back last week.
In the run-up to the latest planning meeting, Santander also wrote a strongly-worded letter to town hall bosses claiming there was room for only one cinema in Bolton’s centre — and that Crompton Place was the superior scheme, having attracted interest from major operators Odeon and Reel.
The application is set to be debated at committee within the next few months.
Paul Till, regional director of Le Salles Investment Management, which represents Santander, said: “There is limited capacity and it is essential the optimum site and scheme is chosen which would secure the development plan objective to bring about regeneration.
“If planning permission is granted for the sub-optimal Market Place scheme and that fails to attract a national cinema operator, as is the clear position, regeneration objectives will be thwarted as a second cinema including national operators will not be developed.
“These national operators will then turn their back on Bolton.”
Speaking at committee, chief executive of Moorgarth Tim Vaughan said the firm was absolutely committed to bring its plans to realisation and make Market Place a ‘regional’ destination.
He added: “We have had various meeting with significant organisations in Bolton town centre, including the university, the college, schools and businesses like Asons, one of the largest employers in the town.
“All of them have given us resounding approval.
“Speaking to Asons, they have explained to us they are concerned about the retention of staff, as there’s nothing for people to do at lunch-time or after work.
“We are hoping that our proposal will provide the solution in part for the council.
“The cinema operator we have in place is absolutely first class.”
Leader of Bolton Council Cllr Cliff Morris commended the scheme, saying it will bring families back into the town centre at night.
He added: “For one thing, this is private investment in our town centre.
“They are showing us they will invest in our town centre and I think we should welcome it with open arms.
“It is a great lift for Bolton at this time.”