A HISTORIC Farnworth church is to be demolished to make way for a children's play area.

Bolton Council has granted permission for the demolition of St Gregory The Great Roman Catholic Church, the attached presbytery and church hall.

The grade II listed church, on the corner of Presto Street and Church, could be replaced with a soft play and multi-use games areas to be used by the neighbouring St Gregory's RC Primary School.

Applicants, the Trustees of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford, said the church had stood vacant since 1997 and is in an advanced state of dereliction.

Attempts had been made to save the building — more than £150,000 invested in its maintenance and repair since it had ceased being a place of worship.

Concerns were also raised that derelict buildings risk becoming a hazard to public safety and detract from the area if they continue to decline.

In a letter to council planning control Edward Nally, secretary of Trustees, said the demolition of a listed building was not something to be considered lightly but the building had no future.

"If demolished by contrast the site has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the improvement of facilities available at the adjoining school."

As well as the proposed play areas, the site could be used for a potential future expansion of the school building.

St Gregory's graveyard could also be preserved as a Peace Garden, with the gravestones laid flat and ground landscaped to improve the area.

The church was built in 1873 to 75, the presbytery was erected in 1896 and parish hall in 1929.

Structural problems were found in 1990 and the church fell into disrepair, worship moved to the parish hall in 1997 and the church was listed a year later.

The presbytery was closed in 2003.

After the church was closed furnishing, including the pulpit, pews, altar, decorative tiling and carved panelling, were removed for safe keeping.

The building has continual decline with masonry collapsing in the Lady Chapel and the main building suffering serious structural problems, believed to be caused by mining subsidence, and extensive dry rot and timber decay.

The church has also been a target for thieves who have ransacked the 140-year-old building while hunting for metal to sell.

Historic England supported the application on the condition the building be suitably recorded and any features of special interest be salvaged, but English Heritage objected on the grounds that it did not consider a robust and clear justification had been provided for total demolition.

Bolton Council approved the application on the grounds that the demolition of the dangerous structure and regeneration of the site would enhance the character of the area.