THE TOWN centre could be transformed by new flats and apartment blocks as the focus of the high street shifts.

Two iconic buildings in the middle of Bolton are the subject of plans which could see them converted into housing and town hall chiefs say residential properties are likely to be the future of the area.

The former Empress Ballroom in Mealhouse Lane, which has since been occupied by the Yorkshire Building Society, is the subject of an application which could see the upper floors changed into a mixture of one and two bedroom flats. The historic structure has played host to a number of popular venues through the years, including the Crown & Cushion Bar and Spencer’s Bar.

Rob Hotchkiss the director of Seed Architects Ltd - the company working on the latest plans for the site - said the proposals were part of a “transformation” coming to the centre of Bolton.

He has previously worked on major projects in Manchester, including the demolition of the infamous Hacienda night club, which became flats, and the transformation of the Grade-II listed Free Trade Hall into a 263-bed hotel.

“I think in terms of Bolton town centre, it’s the beginning of a massive change,” Mr Hotchkiss told the Bolton News.

“I used to go to Bolton as a kid and working around the town centre is not as busy as it used to be. But I think it’s going to boom.

“There are a lot of old buildings that are prime for conversion. It’s a really nice place. I’d rather live there than in Manchester City Centre.”

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Plans for the Mealhouse Lane site were submitted in October

The project will be ruled on by planning chiefs before December 4 but this is not the only historic building in the town which could be changed into housing. The former YMCA site in Deansgate is also slated for a major transformation.

The three-storey building, which is set for demolition, could be replaced with 44 one-bed “aspirational living” flats.

A statement attached to the proposals explained that the YMCA believes the new building would be in-keeping with other plans to change the face of the town centre.

It says: “The proposals represent an appropriate and high-quality form of development, providing new aspirational living apartments, for which there is an identified need, thereby making a significant contribution to the continuing regeneration taking place within the town centre.

“The building has been designed to complement its surroundings in terms of scale, massing and appearance.

“In respect of materials, these will be in-keeping with neighbouring buildings as well as being appropriate for its respective uses.

“The proposals will offer important services that the existing building cannot adequately provide.”

Bolton's high streets have been the epicentre for a number of regeneration schemes as part of a £1.2bn project set to transform the face of the borough.

This includes creating entirely new neighbourhoods in run-down areas of town, such as the Church Wharf site on the banks of the River Croal and the Trinity Gateway close to Bolton Railway Station.

But Bolton Council's development chief Cllr Martyn Cox, says that the authority is hoping that its projects will inspire other construction firms to build their own residential properties.

“It’s fundamental to the redevelopment of the town centre,” he said.

"As retail declines we are hoping housing will be what takes its place.

"The council has got quite a few major projects in place but we expect smaller developers to get involved and it seems like that's what is happening.

"We're trying to start the ball rolling and we hope that this gives confidence to other developers."