WORK on Bolton’s planned new specialist shopping centre could begin in a matter of weeks.

The first planning application concerning ‘The Link’ development — which will be created at the disused Bow Street multi-storey car park in the town centre — has been submitted to Bolton Council.

The change of use proposal marks an important step for the project, which will aim to house up to 60 specialist retail units, to be let to a range of independent and artisan businesses.

If permission is granted, it is believed that work could start on the ambitious project in a matter of weeks, with hope that the first retail units could open their doors to the public as early as Easter.

As well as the retail ‘emporium’ aspect of the project, developers Farhad Azimy and Spice Valley restaurant team Subhash and Geeta Kotecha are planning to turn the top floors of the former car park into a complex of more than 60 studio apartments.

One floor of the building has also been earmarked for leisure activities such as a children’s play area or paintball or laser tag facilities.

The development could be partly powered by a planned solar farm which may be built on the roof of the centre and there will also be free parking for 180 cars

The plans were first outlined in March and Mr Azimy explained that since then agreements have been put in place and surveying work has been carried out on the building — which mean the project is nearing a start date.

He said: “Progress has certainly been made and we hope that with the planning application, people will see that we are just as passionate about the project as ever.

“Our plans are entirely the same and we are pleased to say that we already have a good number of traders who have agreed to come on board within The Link — some of them are very interesting and surprising.”

“Our emphasis is on small businesses and we want to encourage as many as possible to come forward and get involved in this exciting project.”

The team are keen to stress that The Link will be very different to what is being created at the nearby Market Place Shopping Centre.

The centre will focus heavily on giving small, local businesses a home and new logos and marketing materials have been produced to emphasise this.

Mr Kotecha said: “We think our plan for small, independent businesses will complement the Market Place and be another reason to bring people into Bolton, which is what we all want.”

“We are Bolton business people who want to help our town.”

The change of use application is asking for permission to change the use of the Bow Street site from a car park to a car park with various other uses.

The developers have taken inspiration from Manchester’s iconic Affleck’s Palace in their bid to create a varied venue of individualistic traders selling everything from exotic street food to specialist fashion items.

Mr Azimy explained that, like the Market Place revamp, the Link project will be carried out in phases.

He said: “If we are successful with planning, then we want to start work in a matter of weeks and we would hope to have some of the first traders up and running by around Easter time.

“Bolton Council as a whole has been extremely supportive of our plan and we are very grateful for all their help.”

He called on the people of Bolton to show a similar level of support for the scheme, which he believes will help to revitalise the town centre.

He added: “The only way we can make this work is if the good people of this town back us, we need everyone behind this.”

Mr Kotecha added: “We want this to be a new destination for people to travel to from all over, but first we need the Bolton people to get on board.”