BOLTON Council has produced new guidance for planning applications in the borough — which emphasises the need to protect listed buildings and open spaces.

The planning report comes in the wake of criticism of the authority for producing plans to cut into the front facade of Bolton Town Hall — which have since been shelved — as well as proposals to build university accommodation behind another listed building in Le Mans Crescent.

But the authority’s latest General Design Principles document seeks to emphasise the “great importance of protecting buildings of architectural and historic interest from unnecessary demolition and inappropriate alteration.”

Last month, the council withdrew a plan to refurbish the Grade II listed town hall building, which included the cutting away of parts of the historic front facade in order to create outdoor seating areas for a restaurant and cafe.

Council chiefs faced pressure from residents and campaigners who felt any alteration to the stonework of the building should be regarded as “vandalism.”

It has since produced alternative plans, which include an internal cafe-bar and involve only a very minor alteration of the outside stonework, to accommodate a new disabled access.

In February the council unveiled preliminary plans to develop a £40 million student village near to Cheadle Square, behind the historic Le Mans Crescent.

Campaigners, led by the Bolton and District Civic Trust, argued that such a development should not be built next to the Grade II listed crescent building and argued that it would block the important views through the archway towards Queen’s Park.

They have also suggested that building on this location would impact upon one of the few areas of open, green space in the town centre.

Within the planning document, a section pertinent to any development near to Le Mans Crescent, reads: “The visual quality of open spaces around a listed building often contributes to its setting. Development which would lead to the loss of any open space which fulfils a valuable role in the townscape will be resisted.

“So too would development which would obstruct important views of and from listed buildings.”

The council said that the report, which was approved to be adopted into its guidance earlier this month, “represents nothing new” in its advice and is a consolidation of multiple sources of guidance into one document.”

Responding to the report, Richard Shirres, chairman of the Bolton and District Civic Trust, said: “Having reviewed this latest consolidating document, we agree that the Section on Listed Buildings and Conservation is consistent with previous guidance.

“But this is precisely what helped to make the Council’s position untenable in the first place and cast serious doubt on the Council’s understanding of their responsibilities.

“As to any future design proposals in the vicinity of Cheadle Square, we would add that the developers and their architects seem to have a real hill to climb if they are to establish their credibility in design and planning with the Bolton public — we encourage genuine public participation from the Council in bringing forward possible options."

A spokesman for Bolton Council said: “As custodians of some of Bolton’s listed buildings we fully understand our responsibilities.

“With regards to the plan for changes to the Albert Halls, we always said that we respected the listed status of the building.

“English Heritage were supportive of the original plan, however, following consultation, we received feedback and we did not pursue the option of adapting the façade. Instead we submitted one of the alternative plans that had been drawn up. We listened to people’s views and we agreed that a better solution could be explored which would still enable us to achieve some of our original objectives.

“With the student village development proposed for behind Le Mans Crescent, we must stress that only very early preliminary designs have been circulated and they are not meant to be representative of the final scheme. Official plans for this project have not yet been submitted and we are working closely with the University of Bolton, and the developer to create a proposal that would be sympathetic to the civic centre, the setting and surroundings.”