"Questions have been lined up" about Bolton Council’s buying of the old Marks and Spencer building to make way for town centre regeneration works.

The Deansgate store has been empty since January 2023 after M&S decided to leave citing changing retail habits.

This week the fate of the building has been much discussed ever since and was under scrutiny at a pre-local election session held by the Bolton and District Pensioners Association.

Cllr Debbie Newall, who addressed the session, said: “There was a lot of discussion about the town centre and the old Marks and Spencer building, and we just talked about how high streets and town centres are different now.”

She added: “The idea is that we want a mix of residential, cultural and retail spaces in the town centre so that people living there will bring investment and then that will spread outwards.”

The council first bought the building in 2019 for around £15M in advance of its plans to redevelop the town centre.

But since then the pandemic held up many of these plans, while M&S itself did not surrender its lease, which had been due to continue for another three years, until this March.

The council has not publicly revealed the terms of this lease surrender, citing commercial sensitivity.

The council authorised buying the lease at a cabinet meeting held in March this year and say that this, along with Primark set to leave Crompton Place in November will get works started.

Cllr Newall said: “If we hadn’t bought the lease, it could have held up the development for months.”

But questions have persisted about the use of the space and its future since then.

These have included questions about the costs paid in 2019, how much value it may have lost since then and why agreements about the lease and walkway were not already in place.

Cllr John Walsh said: “I made it clear when the council paid £15m to buy the Marks and Spencer building that all these matters would need to be addressed about the leasing and the way to Crompton Place would need to be addressed.”

He added: “There is a scrutiny meeting to discuss the matter and there are some very serious questions that need to be answered.

“I’ve already got some questions lined up to which I will be seeking answers.”

The acquisition of the Marks and Spencer building by the council is set to be discussed further at a special meeting of the place scrutiny committee on Thursday, April 25.