PROSPECTIVE Tory MPs have criticised Bolton Council’s plans to spend up to £6.5 million renovating the Albert Halls.
The authority’s leaders announced last week that the venue will be closed for up to 12 months while work is carried out to renovate the theatre and build a new upmarket restaurant and cafe on the ground floor of the Town Hall.
The work is in addition to the £3.5 million refurbishment on the authority’s offices and the council will lose at least £135,000 in income while the halls are shut from February.
Would-be Conservative MPs have said the money should be spent on front line services, but council bosses say the cash cannot be ploughed into this and must be spent on capital projects.
James Daly, who will run against David Crausby in May 2015 for the Bolton North East constituency, which covers the town centre, said he was “disgusted” with the proposals.
He added: “The huge sums being spent on this project should be used to protect important frontline services in Bolton.
“Why would anyone spend taxpayers’ money in this way when £63 million of savings have to be found between 2015 and 2018?
“Approximately £1 million appears to have been taken out of the town centre renewal fund to pay for a restaurant and cafe in a council building.
"That money should be used to help the whole Bolton family and not be spent in this manner.”
Bolton West Tory candidate Chris Green, who will stand against Julie Hilling at the next general election, said the town centre would not benefit from the proposals.
He added: “Why waste millions on a project like this when it is the town centre that is in desperate need of a makeover?
“There are dozens of empty shops which are crying out to be renovated.
"And as for having an ‘upmarket’ restaurant - surely such an establishment would really hit already struggling businesses?
“This whole misguided proposition smacks of typical Labour, spending vast amounts of money on projects such as this, instead of trying to solve what really needs fixing.”
Leader of Bolton Council Cllr Cliff Morris insisted the money used to pay for the renovation was out of capital funding, which is allocated for major schemes such as building or improving roads, schools or buildings.
It cannot be spent on services and was partly raised by the selling-off of council assets.
He added: “We are bringing the Albert Halls into the 21st century.
“To say we can use capital funding on services is a nonsense, and Cllr Daly — as deputy leader of the Bury Conservatives — should know how council funding works.
“We have to support the redevelopment of the town centre and renovating the Albert Halls will help businesses — if more people come then they will shop and spend money.
"If Cllr Daly and Mr Green want to represent Bolton, why are they criticising efforts to improve it?”