A St George's Day Parade in Bradford involving thousands of schoolchildren and aimed at promoting community cohesion has been cancelled suddenly.

The route through Girlington and Manning- ham for the April 23 event had been deliberately chosen to go through an area where the Bradford riots took place in 2001.

Schools were first given details of the parade by their neighbourhood policing team's school liaison officer last November.

The letter inviting them to take part states that the event had already won the support of the Council of Mosques and the District Interfaith Forum.

But they have now been left dismayed after received only days' notice that it will not go ahead next week.

And a suggested alternative date of July 1 has been greeted with scorn by critics of the decision including a church leader and MPs.

The Reverend Tony Tooby, vicar of Girlington and chairman of governors of St Philips Primary School, said he had first learned from a senior Bradford Council officer at a meeting this week that the parade had been cancelled on "health and safety grounds".

"Children from Heaton, Manningham and Girlington were all going to be involved in the parade which was about coming together," said Mr Tooby.

"We wanted to walk the route of the riots and spread a message of pace and unity.

"The police organised the event. Now, just days before the event we have been told it has been cancelled for health and safety reasons.

"They have offered us July 1 instead but then it would not be a St George's Day Parade.

"If there are health and safety issues as is claimed why is it okay to have it on July 1 and not April 23?

"We are pretty frustrated and I feel the people of Bradford have a right to know why this unity parade has been cancelled.

"The children have been preparing for this for months, making banners and practising songs, they are very upset it has been cancelled in such a way."

Constituency MP Marsha Singh said it was a missed opportunity to boost community cohesion and reclaim St George's Day from "divisive" elements.

Mr Singh (Lab, Bradford West) said: "I'm quite surprised that this decision has been made.

"I feel such an event could only have been a very positive thing for the city. To have such a unifying event like that in Bradford would have been excellent.

"The reasons given seem a bit spurious to me. If the children have been preparing for this and put so much effort in this will be a bitter blow.

"I feel this would have been a great opportunity to reclaim St George's Day from those who have abused it for divisive purposes."

Shipley Conservative MP Philip Davies described the cancellation as "pathetic".

He said: "I am passionate in the belief that people should be celebrating St George's Day and have a sense of national pride.

"I think the police and Bradford Council should be doing everything they can to facilitate events of this type. This was as good an opportunity as we will ever get to promote community cohesion.

"I cannot believe it is beyond the wit and skill of council and the police to organise a St George's Day Parade. It is pathetic to say it can be held in July instead."

Councillor Qasim Khan (Lib Dem, Manningham) said the original intention of the parade was to mark St George's Day and bring the Manningham and Girlington communities together after the 2001 riots.

He said "It was basically to cover the areas which had been affected by the riots. It was all about bringing communities together," he said.

"All the schools had prepared flags and will be obviously upset to hear the news. About 2,000 schoolchildren were due to take part plus members of the general public. There could have been five or 10,000 people."

Coun Khan said senior police officers had now objected on safety grounds and had proposed an alternative route which had been rejected by many of those taking part causing it to be cancelled.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman admitted the neighbourhood policing team had been involved in the "early stages" of planning the parade but denied it was a police event.

She said: "A member of the Neighbourhood Policing Team was involved in the early stages of planning a Parade of Celebration'.

"This is being dealt with by a group of community members, and is not a police event.

"Routes were offered to allow a smaller St George's Day Parade to go ahead, but these were rejected by the group of organisers, who are seeking a more substantial parade to celebrate community cohesion in a post-riot Bradford.

"The parade has not been cancelled but has been postponed."

Bradford Council's deputy chief executive Jo Miller said: "The Council, working with the police, offered health and safety advice and support to the community for their Parade of Celebration.

" The Parade of Celebration was originally scheduled by the community to take place on the April 23, St George's Day.

"The Council has now been told that the Parade of Celebration has been postponed by the community.

"Health and safety advice and support from the Council will still be available for any future date that is chosen by the community for their parade."

Martin Bishop deputy head teacher of St Philip's Primary school, said: "The children will be very disappointed. We were first approached about the parade by West Yorkshire Police and the children and parents have been busy making banners. We were very happy to be involved in the event but it seems like it's been a waste of time now."

Atlas, Miriam Lord, Margaret McMillan and Lister Primary schools also all confirmed to the T&A that their pupils had been due to take part in next week's parade.