THE transformation of Bolton’s Market Place by creating a subterranean complex of restaurants and bars as well as a nine-screen cinema has begun.

Owner Moorgarth has started the £15 million conversion and promised that the shopping centre it acquired in October will remain open until it is complete — by Easter 2015.

Moorgarth chief executive Tim Vaughan unveiled one of the vaults at a special presentation yesterday, together with ambitious plans to create a “cut” into the basement area with two escalators transporting visitors into the underground eatery and bar zone.

A listed building application will be considered by Bolton’s planning committee on May 1, when Mr Vaughan is hoping the final obstacle to the work going ahead will be removed.

He said plans were conceived when Bolton was identified as “massively under-serviced in retail, food and drink” shortly before Moorgarth bought the Market Place for £24 million. Mr Vaughan said: “It was one of the few towns in the UK which did not have a town centre cinema.

“It is a top-100 town with a population of 250,000 and has potential to be a major growth area in Greater Manchester.

“Bolton has had a difficult time since 2008 because people have gone and shopped elsewhere. Our aim is to get people into the habit of coming back into the town centre.

“The vaults are going to have quite a European feel. It will feel like you’re sitting outside, but you will be inside.”

Although the cinema would not open before Easter next year, Moorgarth is aiming for the vault areas to be ready much sooner.

Mr Vaughan said: “With a facility like those vaults, it would have been madness not to use it. English Heritage, who we approached along with Bolton Council’s conservation officers about the idea, loved the idea of bringing the vaults back into public view. This was used for storage for 150 years, which was crazy.” Included in the plans for the Market Place is an area for live music, a children’s play zone and there will also be art exhibitions and fashion events.

Mr Vaughan said there was a long list of major retailers who were waiting to see what Moorgarth would do to the development.

He added: “The key thing we’ve got to do is to create a destination where there is constant activity on the site.

“If it’s raining on a Sunday, we want people to think ‘we’ll go and see what’s going on at the Market Place’.”

Work to reconfigure the shopping centre has started and will continue while it is open. Mr Vaughan said any work involving vibration and noise would take place at night.