A FORMER soldier whose gym had to shut after a fire has been told the signs on his business will have to come down — because the gym is in a conservation area.

Lee Hill says his “dream has come crashing down” after his gym BodyTorq was forced to leave its premises in School Street after a fire ripped through the roof of the row of businesses on June 1.

BodyTorq was launched in February by fitness instructor Mr Hill, who has been on four tours to Afghanistan, returning most recently last year.

Just prior to the blaze, he was told by Bolton Council that BodyTorq’s eye-catching signage would have to come down.

The perspex signs, worth more than £2,000, were responsible for attracting more than a quarter of BodyTorq’s members, according to Mr Hill.

But he was told in a letter from the council that they would have to be boarded over and painted black as the gym was in a conservation area. The council defended the order, but said, in light of the fire, it would agree an appropriate timescale with BodyTorq for the sign to be removed.

Mr Hill said: “So many people have said to us how much better it looks now with our sign.

“It is quite disappointing really. All we were told is that it is in a conservation area.

“We were just starting to look into sorting it all out when the fire happened.

He added: “It does not even protude into the street as it sits in the frame.

“Being told to paint it black by the council has confused me. I don’t understand how that would make the area look any better.”

BodyTorq is now operating in Westhoughton Community Leisure Centre, but has started to lose members after they initially supported Mr Hill following the fire.

He said: “Some people are starting to cancel memberships. Initially everyone was very loyal but they’re starting to slip away.

“I saved up the money myself and it is devastating to be in this situation after all that work.

“Doing this was a dream but it has come crashing down. If the building does end up being knocked down we will have to find somewhere new.”

A council spokesman said: “We had received a complaint, prior to the fire, about the signage. We went down and explained to the gym owners that the signage needed to be removed as the building is within a conservation area and because of its size and location, the sign requires advertisement consent.

“They agreed to do this. However, we understand that due to the fire, the matter is unresolved, and we are happy to speak to the owner to agree an appropriate and reasonable timeframe.”