A NEW bridge over the Leeds Liverpool Canal has been agreed - unlocking the prospect of 1,600 new jobs for Burnley and Padiham.

Negotiations have been ongoing between the developers of the sprawling Burnley Bridge business park, on the former Hepworth's site near Hapton, and Leeds-based property agents Eshton and a deal has now been reached.

Work could now commence this summer on a new canal crossing at junction nine of the M65, and completed by autumn 2011.

Outline plans have been approved for new warehousing, industrial units, a 60-bed hotel and a residential estate on the Pollard Moor land.

And bosses at Lancashire Care NHS Trust have said that they want to use part of the moorland as the location for East Lancashire's new mental health super centre, replacing wards at the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals.

But the proposals hinged on finding alternative access to the old Hepworth's plant, other than allowing large numbers of cars and lorries through Hapton village.

Findel PLC has already signalled its interest in the largest unit on site and talks are ongoing with a number of other potential tenants.

If proposals proceed unhindered the business park could be finished by 2014. Around 350 jobs are expected to be generated by the 150 to 180 bed mental hospital.

Burnley Council spokesman Alex Dooley said: "Further off-site acquistion of land to provide a route for direction connection from the site to junction nine of the M65 has been completed.

"In addition, negotiation between Eshton and British Waterways has been successfully concluded, allowing the development of a permanent easment over the Leeds Liverpool Canal."

Joan Lakeland, chairman of Hapton Parish Council, said: "The bridge will be good for us as long as it's built quite soon.

“We understand that there will be some disruption when the bridge is built but we want that kept to a minimum.

"I'm happy for there to be development, it will be good for Hapton and good for Burnley."