RESIDENTS who are opposing plans for a phone mast on a busy Harwood footpath told a planning inspector it would be a blot on the landscape and a health-and-safety hazard.

T-Mobile appealed after Bolton Council's planning and highways committee ignored the advice of officers and refused permission for the 3G mast in Lea Gate near the Morrisons supermarket.

Councillors said that as the 11.7-metre mast would narrow the footpath, pedestrians, including mothers with pushchairs and people in wheelchairs, might be forced to use the road.

Yesterday, at the appeal hearing in Bolton Town Hall, planning inspector Elizabeth Hill listened to arguments from the company, the council and residents.

Ian Calderbank, Bolton's principle engineer, said the width of the footpath would be reduced to 1.8 metres - below the legal two-metre minimum.

But T-Mobile agent Susan McMorrow said that when the path was busy she believed pedestrians would wait for people coming the other way to pass rather then attempt to walk round them in the road.

Residents Gillian Platt and Veronica Goodman said the footpath was the main route to the supermarkert, library and health centre.

They also raised concerns that the mast would spoil the character of the area, with the 16th-century Lea Gate Farm and two cottages nearby being listed buildings.

Mrs Platt said residents feared the mast could pose a health risk and said its position near the supermarket's petrol station could also be dangerous.

That suggestion was denied by T-Mobile's regional property surveyor Simon Mitchell, who added that the company would be willing to pay for the footpath to be widened to two metres.

After the hearing, Mrs Platt, of Tottington Road, said: "I hope the inspector has listened to residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives and know the area better than anybody.

"The footpath is not wide enough as it is, and even if they extended it that would not be enough to persuade us."

Mrs Platt, aged 63, added: "You're not supposed to use mobile phones at petrol stations but here they want to site a phone mast near one, it's ludicrous.

"We're worried there could be an explosion."

A site visit followed the hearing and a decision is due within seven weeks.