Bolton’s hugely popular Food and Drink Festival had to be cancelled as council staff focus efforts on fighting the coronavirus epidemic, the council leader has said.

With all large gatherings banned following recent government advice the council made the “tough but necessary decision” to not hold the event this year.

Cllr David Greenhalgh, leader of Bolton Council, said in a statement: “It is with great regret that we have announced that the Bolton Food and Drink Festival will not go ahead this year.

“It is the jewel in the crown of our annual events calendar and we know that many thousands of people will be disappointed by the decision.

“However, given the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, the council is currently quite rightly prioritising the health and well-being of the public, traders and the wider festival team.

“The event takes a huge amount of planning and, due to the current situation, the complex work needed to organise such a huge event cannot take place right now.

“We apologise to all the people who work so hard every year to organise and join the event to make it the huge success it has become.

“Once we have come through this crisis we promise we will work to make the next Bolton Food and drink Festival the biggest and best in its history. Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding.”

Traders have voiced their sadness at the news, with the festival a massive event in their calendar.

Dex Morris, who runs the Second City Coffee stall that has attended the festival for a number of years, said the cancellation was “tragic”.

He said: “I’m devastated by the news. Both financially and just pure pleasure in doing the event it’s so sad.

“I only do one booked event a year and it’s Bolton Food and Drink Festival.”

Ryan Bailey, one of the owners of Northern Monkey in Nelson Square, also commented that it’s a real shame to be missing out on the festival this year.

He said: “It was our most successful period last year the festival.

“I’ve never seen Bolton town centre so busy as it was then in a long time.”

However, he believed the decision to postpone was the correct one.

“It takes a serious amount of planning and organisation so it is the sensible decision really. It just means that next year will be even bigger.

“It’s hard at the moment with government advice changing for pubs every day, and the festival would have helped, but we’ll adapt, focusing on home deliveries, and come back stronger next year.”

The festival is usually held over the August bank holiday weekend.

The cancellation was was made this week in an email to traders.

The email said: “The event takes a huge amount of planning which would be taking place right now and it was felt our resources are better used tackling the current situation.

“We have been preparing this event for a long time to display an extraordinary weekend and so it saddens us to cancel it, but with the current situation worldwide our main objective is minimise risk for our community, our team and partners."

For more information, follow @BoltonFoodFest on Facebook and Twitter.