The town centre’s Marks and Spencer building has plunged in value by £14million since being bought by Bolton Council, according to claims made during a town hall meeting.

The Deansgate store announced its closure in January 2023, sparking widespread dismay at the state of Bolton’s high street and has remained vacant ever since.

Speaking this week's budget meeting, Cllr Martyn Cox, leader of the opposition Conservative Group claimed that since being bought by the council in 2019, the building had dramatically dropped in value. 

He said: "One of the things we inherited, that was Labour’s parting gift to us, they bought the Marks and Spencer building for £15million.

“I cannot for the life of me think that that had to do with our town centre regeneration projects.

The Bolton News: Marks and Spencer closed last yearMarks and Spencer closed last year (Image: Newsquest)

“We had five clear intervention areas that we were going to intervein in in order to regenerate and that never included the Marks and Spencer building.”

He added: “We spent about £15million of it and it is now worth about a million pounds.

“It was one of the worst capital allocation decisions that this council has ever made.”

The budget debated at Bolton Town Hall last night agreed to a council tax rise of more than five per cent and cuts to services like recycling and street lighting.

This will come into effect from the start of the new financial year in April.

Speaking about the M&S purchase after last night's meeting, Cllr Cox said: “It was a very foolish purchase which has cost the tax payer an awful lot of money.”

He added: “I think we’d be lucky now to get £1million for it.”

The building had been purchased by Bolton Council in 2019, then under Labour control, apparently as part of the plans to access Crompton Place.

But Cllr Cox has claimed that this was not part of what he understood to be the wider plan to regeneration of the town centre.

He said: “The purchase had nothing to do with the town centre regeneration scheme.

“We had five regeneration areas, none of which were the Marks and Spencer building.”

After buying the building, Bolton Council continued to rent it to the retailer until its closure in 2023.

Cllr Cox said: “I was told at the time that it would help negotiate away Marks and Spencer's access rights to Crompton Place.”

He added: “We get a rental income from it and it’s a decent rental income but ultimately the council didn’t borrow all this money so it could be a landlord in the town, it was supposed to be for the regeneration of our town centre.”

Cllr Cox made the claims about the loss of value during a speech to a full meeting of Bolton Council called to debate this year’s budget.

But Bolton Council leader, Labour's Cllr Nick Peel, says that since 2019 the building has earned around £1M in revenue for the authority every year and that it will be key to the redevelopment of Crompton Place.

He said: "The big thing is that we own the building, the council own the building, which is going to be absolutely crucial for our plans for Crompton Place.

"It's going to be crucial because of access rights so we needed to have that ownership.

"We couldn't make moves on Crompton Place unless we had control of the building."

He added: "The Tories were supportive of it in 2019, they were then in power four years, and we've now picked it up again."

Marks and Spencer announced its plans to close in January of that year citing “changing shopping habits” before its doors finally closed for good that April.

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Several months on the building still stands empty.

In January this year a source in the council’s ruling Labour group claimed to have been told by officers not to ask public questions about its future.

He said that he had been told the issue was too “commercially sensitive” to be discussed in a public forum.

Responding at the time, a council spokesperson said that discussions about the future of the building were “ongoing.”