AFTER months of protest over the sale of council-owned land, debate has begun over the half-a-million pound profits and what the town should get in exchange for the loss of its former playing fields.

Horwich leaders are calling for £500,000 in compensation after a much-loved former playing field, owned by Bolton Council, has been sold.

Last month, it was agreed by the council that land behind Singleton Avenue, known locally as Pickup’s Fields, would be sold to the Bolton at Home housing association, with the aim of building affordable homes.

A proposal to put a fifth of the half-a-million-pound cheque for the land towards regenerating Horwich town centre was blocked at the private meeting in which the sale was authorised.

Liberal Democrat councillor David Wilkinson called in the decision for further scrutiny saying that the move, which could be nothing more than a "bribe", should be debated further.

But at a scrutiny committee on Wednesday evening, Horwich Labour councillor Richard Silvester, who opposed the sale, said that the town should get all of the monies the council made from the sale.

He said: "All of the monies from the sale of Pickup's Fields should be released back to Horwich to be used to replace the public open space, which will be lost, with an alternative facility and/or to improve existing public green space."

The campaign for full compensation is divisive, even among Horwich representatives.

Marie Brady, a Horwich and Blackrod First Independents councillor, said she is afraid that the town will lose the £100,000 altogether if the cash handover is delayed by debate.

Cllr Brady said: "£100,000 is nowhere near enough, but we have to look at what it will buy us.

"It still won't buy us a field and that's what is missing. We've not much green space left in Horwich.

"But we're not being greedy in Horwich, we did think £100,000 would help. It wouldn't replace it, but why shouldn't other areas also benefit when they have got open spaces that have been lost. We would have no objection.

"It just seems that there should be some reparations for residents and some attempt to compensate by improving facilities elsewhere. We're never going to get like for like because the land isn't available."

The plan to sell the land received more than 400 letters of objection from residents and councillors alike, but deputy council leader Martyn Cox said that other green belt land would be put at risk if the field was not sold.

Concerns were also voiced in the meeting that the notion of giving money to areas which have lost land to housing would become a consistent policy for the council — which Conservative councillor John Walsh dubbed 'a dangerous route'. The other £400,000, if not given to the town, would be for the use of the council across all wards, which some councillors, including Lib Dem leader Roger Hayes, supported.

But leader David Greenhalgh assured councillors that the payment directed to Horwich would be a 'one-off'.

The decision was sent to full council for further debate.