A FIRE at an historic mill is being treated as "deliberate arson", fire crews say.

Smoke could be seen issuing from Beehive Mills in Great Lever last night after a fire started on the third floor.

Firefighters from Farnworth and Bolton Central were called to the Grade II listed building shortly after 9pm.

Michael O'Neill, watch manager at Farnworth Fire Station, said: "We were called to a commercial building fire on the third floor of the mill.

"As we arrived you could see the smoke coming out of the windows.

"Our main challenge was gaining access. We had trouble getting to the fire because it was inside a derelict mill and we had to find a safe route.

"Two people went in with breathing apparatus to locate the fire and extinguish it.

"Part of an internal wall was on fire and the plasterboard had gone up in flames.

"We used mechanical and natural ventilation to clear the smoke from the premises."

Crews remained at the former cotton spinning mill in Crescent Road for more than two hours.

The fire is being treated as "deliberate ignition" and has been reported to the police for further investigation.

The Victorian Beehive Mills is currently earmarked for a 121-home development.

In March, The Bolton News reported that Countryside Properties had resubmitted identical plans to develop the site after they were thrown out in December.

In their latest attempt to get the plans approved, they offered Bolton Council £100,000.

Planning officers recommended councillors approve the last application which featured a "clawback clause" meaning contributions could be required at a later stage.