FRUSTRATED residents demanded answers over the continuing delay to the regeneration of their town centre - years after a developer was granted planning permission.

Angry people living in Farnworth quizzed Paul Whittingham, Bolton Council’s head of planning, at a heated area forum meeting at Trinity Methodist Church.

St Modwen was first given the green light to revitalise Farnworth’s former market in 2011 but, two plans down the line, has yet to begin work on the project — to the dismay of residents who fear their town has been abandoned.

Mr Whittingham told the meeting that the current delay was due to the discovery of utilities services through the middle of the site, meaning the initial plans are now ‘unviable’.

He said: “The application for new shop units was in October 2015, they were committed to trying to get 100 per cent letting of the units before they started building it.

“They have then gone out looking at some of the investigatory work needed before they could commence the works and, as a result, did find that there were some major services in that area.

“They can’t build over them, they would have to divert them.

“And as a result it has not been possible to build the scheme they got planning permission for, a row of larger in these modern times modern retailers need a square box before being willing to invest.

“Unfortunately, after all this time, it’s back to the drawing board.”

The explanation sparked disbelief among those at the meeting, who were hoping for some signs that St Modwen – who declined to send a representative to the forum – might soon begin work.

Kath Gough said: “These services that have only just been identified, why were they not identified at the beginning of all this? Surely if you’re investing that’s something you would look at?

“It’s been missed and two or three years down the line we’ve been told ‘oh, we’ve found these services’.”

And Carole Crawley demanded to know ‘exactly what the council has been doing’ to put pressure on St Modwen to begin work.

She said: “Is the council prepared to pay for the work that needs to be done to make it safe? We’ve been waiting for eight or nine years. Considering so much has happened in Bolton could they not pay for the services to be sorted out?”

She added: “We have waited so long, could the council not put the money in as a sign of goodwill instead of expecting St Modwen to do it? St Modwen has had two failed attempts and no one is going to take it on until that problem is solved - and we really need some help to get it done.”

Mr Whittingham told the meeting that the council was more than willing to work with St Modwen to find a new way forward.

But he admitted the authority could not force the developer to act and could not lay down a timescale for an alternative plan to be tabled.

Cllr Noel Spencer said the council tried to reassure people that the council was encouraging St Modwen to come forward with new proposals as soon as possible.

He said: “We are doing as much as we possibly can to put pressure on St Modwen. My hope is that our plans for rejuvenating the Brackley Street area and the new bus station will be an incentive for St Modwen to at last make a start.

“And we will take every opportunity and we will take every opportunity, and have done, to encourage them to make that start.

Councillor Jean Gillies said her understanding was that St Modwen was now working on a revised plan.

But she gave a scathing assessment of their protracted inactivity: “To be honest I’m fed up of them and I am not backing them in any way, shape or form.

“I’ve been to see some of their developments and some stuff they had done was amazing. I had 100 per cent faith in them, but now it’s got to this point I’m fed up. I have no faith in them any more. But they have promised to come back with a new proposal and a new plan.”