A crucial payment that Bolton had received to help pay for the remodelling of the town centre has not been paid for several years.

Back in 2017 Bolton Council announced that a £100M loan it had taken out for its regeneration masterplan would be paid back partly using a regular dividend from Manchester Airport.

But the council’s audit committee heard how this dividend had not been paid since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Chairman Cllr Martyn Cox said: “When we went into the regeneration business in 2012, something which I supported I’m not ducking out of it, I did point out that it is an extremely risky business.”

He added: “I can’t recall anyone, myself included, saying that this was a risk too far but in two years’ time the dividend had disappeared.”

The Bolton News: The meeting was held at Bolton Town HallThe meeting was held at Bolton Town Hall (Image: Newsquest)

The council’s £1billion masterplan for the town centre was first unveiled in July 2017 and included work on a range of projects across central Bolton.

Since the masterplan was announced, work has continued apace around Great Moor Street and Central Street and is soon expected to start up again around the Church Wharf area.

This involved borrowing £100M over a 50-year period which would be paid back using dividends from Manchester Airport, which the council part owns, and the Yorkshire Purchasing Company.

Bolton Council part owns the Manchester Airports Group along with the other nine Greater Manchester councils.

The dividends were usually worth well over £1M every year for Bolton, with the borough receiving one of its biggest payments, around £3M, in 2015.

But in February 2020 Manchester Airport abruptly stopped paying dividends to all of the ten council when the Covid pandemic struck and has made no further payments since. 

Committee member Cllr Roger Hayes said: “Nobody forecast what would happen with Covid.”

He added: “It seemed a very sensible and low risk strategy at the time.”

But the members heard from council officials how they hope that with the pandemic over payments will be able to start again in the coming years.

Manchester Airports Group has also said that it hopes to go back to paying dividends “in due course.”

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A spokesperson said: "With passenger volumes now back to pre-pandemic levels, MAG is embarking on a significant period of investment in its airports.

“These transformational projects will unlock their long-term growth, delivering significant benefits to passengers and the regions they serve, as well as driving value for shareholders. 

"MAG has agreed a balanced approach to funding these major capital programmes, while honouring financial commitments made to our shareholders and returning to dividend payments in due course.

“These plans are regularly re-evaluated in line with company performance, and discussed with shareholders accordingly."