BOLTON’S Albert Halls will be completely transformed as part of a £6.5 million revamp.
The work, including a new upmarket restaurant and cafe, means the town centre venue will be closed for up to a year from February — three months longer than originally planned — and will affect Bolton’s pantomime season next year.
Town hall bosses say they have now earmarked up to £6.5 million to spend redeveloping the Grade-II listed building, which they say represents a significant investment into the centre of Bolton.
The budget has increased from the original £4 million allocation and is in addition to the ongoing £3.5 million refurbishment of the council offices within the town hall.
New plans for The Albert Halls include a ground floor cafe, which would open out into an outdoor seating terrace on Victoria Square and operate until the early evening.
A separate high-end restaurant and bar, also with an outdoor terrace, would also be open to theatre-goers and diners at lunchtime and in the evening.
The theatre, function room, bar areas and toilets will be refurbished, and new lifts will be installed to make the building more accessible.
It is expected the local authority will lose at least £135,000 in income while the halls are shut but council bosses say they have “made allowances” for the loss in revenue.
The blueprint for the halls are subject to planning permission, and an application is due to be formally submitted for councillors to examine within the next eight weeks.
The council will also need approval from English Heritage before starting work on the listed venue, but Malcolm Cox, director of environmental services at Bolton Council, stressed the work would be in keeping with the building.
He added: “There’s a lot of historic significance so we won’t be knocking it around. Anything we do will have to be very sympathetic to the building. We want to make the building more accessible to the public.
“It’s about bringing the halls into the 21st century, by upgrading the heating, the lighting, the ventilation and making it more like what you would expect when you go into a high quality entertainment venue.”
Mr Cox said the council is already planning activities for Christmas in 2015 — including finding alternative places to hold plays and pantomimes, and putting more events in the town centre to bring people to Bolton.
A staff consultation about the scheme took place on Monday after the adjusted plans and spending was approved by Bolton Council’s cabinet, and 42 Albert Halls employees and six cleaners have been told they will be offered secondment positions within the authority.
Leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Cliff Morris, described the new plans as “extremely exciting” for residents.
He said: “Creating a high end restaurant and new cafe within the town hall, and making the beautiful Grade-II listed building more accessible to the public is a bold step, but one we hope will be embraced by local residents and visitors alike.
"However, we must stress that these are still proposals that are subject to change, and in the very early stages of development. Like any other redevelopment we must first succeed in obtaining the appropriate permission.
“There will be an element of disruption while the Albert Halls’ side of the building is closed but we are working closely with everyone concerned to ensure that our festive programme of events continues for the benefit of the town.”