THERE are fears that a historic chapel may never be brought back into use, after it was targeted in an arson attack.

The Grade II listed chapel in Astley Bridge Cemetery, which was built in 1883, was damaged in the fire over the weekend.

Campaigners have spent years trying to restore the disused building to a usable state, but now face an ever harder battle.

Warren Fox organised a petition to convert the site into a library, local education centre and community cafe — but was told by Bolton Council that the plans were not viable.

The former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate said: “I have spent the last two years trying to get the council to bring it back into use as a library, community cafe and education centre and organised a petition.

“Old buildings like this need to be brought back into use. I hope the damage isn’t too great that we risk losing the building forever.”

Fire crews carried out a search on Saturday night to check that there were no rough sleepers in the chapel, which had its vestibule ‘all burnt out’.

Derelict church in Astley Bridge Cemetery damaged in fire

In 2015, work was carried out to repair the chapel’s roof and protect it from the elements, but Bolton Council said that a “significant”investment was still needed to bring the building back to a usable standard.

Astley Bridge councillor Paul Wild said: “There was some work done a while ago on the roof, but that was as far as it got.

“A lot of money would need to be spent to get the chapel up to the standard it used to be. We were hoping to make it usable and get somebody to open a business there, but it never got that far.

“I had a thought about five years ago to see if it could be made into a flower shop, or even a cafe.

“Unfortunately, that was never going to happen because it was too far down the road to disrepair and the council didn’t have the resources to bring it back up to scratch.

“In an ideal world I would like to see it open and to stop this from happening again.

“But when a building is derelict like this it is almost an invitation to those people who would want to set it on fire. A lot of people have contacted me who have parents and grandparents buried at the cemetery and they get upset to see the chapel in such a bad state.”

Among the notable people buried at the cemetery are former Bolton mayors Benjamin Kirkman, Robert Demaine and Henry Warburton — who was widely credited with rapidly expanding the Warburtons bakery in the early 20th century.