ANGRY residents say Bolton Council has set a dangerous precedent by backing down in a legal battle over a phone mast.

The mast was put up last year by the telecommunications firm Hutchinson 3G at Holland's Nurseries, in Darwen Road, Bromley Cross, despite the council turning down a planning application.

Hutchinson 3G appealed and won its case.

The council then tried to enforce a historic covenant that stated nothing should be built on the land and it should only be used for agricultural purposes.

But a public inquiry in June ruled against the council.

Now, it has decided to allow the mast to remain rather than risk further legal action.

Campaigners, who have mounted a long running campaign against the mast, yesterday hit out at the council's decision.

Olive Kenyon, of Laburnum Park, Bradshaw, said: "It seems to me that in this particular instance the law does not equate to justice.

"H3G has bypassed local government planning regulations at every stage.

"I think this decision sets a very worrying precedent.

"If the mobile phone companies think they can get away with it once they're going to do it again and again.

"I think the planning process is flawed.

"These companies have deep pockets and the council only has limited resources."

Councillor Cliff Morris, the council leader, said he felt the council had taken a reasonable approach.

Applying for a judicial review of the matter would have put the covenant at risk, he believed.

Cllr Morris said: "We have virtually exhausted the legal and planning process, but by not pursuing the review we have preserved the covenant.

"We do not think the development is appropriate and we have been consistent in our arguments against it.

"But it is not going to have a major impact on the area and sits in a fairly small plot within the nurseries.

"The planning inspector made these points in the planning inquiry report.

"It has been a difficult decision, but we were left with only two options; a judicial review, which was not guaranteed to come down in our favour, or not take out a challenge against the Secretary of State's decision.

"By taking the decision we have, the covenant remains intact."