A NEW economy-boosting campaign is to be launched encouraging people shopping outside the borough to come back to Leigh to see the new developments.
Leigh MP Andy Burnham will be leading the drive to give the town centre a lift throughout 2015, when Wigan Council will spend almost £1m improving the retail area and the guided busway will open.
Mr Burnham recently hosted a town centre summit for local businesses and representatives from Wigan Council to discuss ways in which Leigh town centre could be improved.
The meeting came up with a long list of measures to make the town a better retail destination, and Mr Burnham now hopes a permanent ideas forum can be set up through umbrella organisation Trust in Leigh to develop new schemes which can be presented to the local authority.
Mr Burnham said: “It was a very positive meeting and the traders are obviously so passionate about Leigh. The idea is to identify an action plan for the town centre which is very much led by the traders, because I think their voices are very important.
“I think we’ve got a big chance to reshape Leigh and remarket the town to people who have got out of the habit of shopping there.”
The traders discussed issues including the lack of free parking and the possibility of cut-price parking on certain days of the month, the high business rates firms must pay to trade on the high street and improving the general look of Bradshawgate with Wigan Council deputy chief executive Paul McKevitt.
Suggestions included placing adverts for local businesses in the windows of empty units and setting up a public-private sector partnership to neaten up the town centre with innovations including new canopies for some of the shops.
Wigan Council is already committed to making a number of improvements in Leigh, with money allocated for moving the outdoor market from Albion Street to a central strip on Bradshawgate, improved entrances to the indoor market and the Spinning Gate shopping centre and a refurbishment of Albion Street and Bradshawgate including tree planting, road resurfacing and installing new lighting.
Mr Burnham says he also hopes to convince residents of the benefits the opening of the guided busway next year could bring to Leigh, with the project currently deeply unpopular with residents due to the severe traffic disruption along the construction sites.
Mr Burnham said: “The guided busway is not currently everybody’s favourite thing, to say the least of it, but I think people are underestimating the opportunity for people to come shopping in Leigh.
“People think of the busway as taking people into Manchester, but everyone who lives on the guided section could be in Leigh in a matter of minutes with no traffic and almost no waiting.
“There’s quite a lot of money going into the town centre next year and I think this represents a big opportunity to really galvanise the town. It’s time to pull these developments into a coherent plan for Leigh.”
Wigan Council also gave its backing to the plans for Leigh and underlined its commitment to boosting the town centre.
Deputy chief executive Mr McKevitt said: “As part of our Deal for Business we realise the importance of creating an environment which helps businesses in Wigan borough grow.
“Last month we announced plans to invest close to £1m to revitalise Leigh town centre which will boost trade and act as a catalyst to bring more shoppers into the town centre.
“We are always willing to work with traders and would be happy to work with a permanent traders group when it is established to help bring more benefits to traders and shoppers in Leigh.”
The traders’ summit is set to meet again in January, while Mr Burnham’s Come Back to Leigh campaign is expected to build throughout 2015 ahead of a major launch next autumn.