CHARLES GRAHAM - Here’s hoping for Plan G

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I HAVE been living in these parts long enough now to have witnessed several local and national economic cycles.

Leafing through mountains of back copies of the Evening Post it would surely be easy to identify which years in the last couple of decades had been the prosperous ones and which the ones where Wigan has been struggling.

There were lots of doom and gloom front pages in the early 1990s for instance as interest rates reached almost comical heights and Wigan Council was threatened with having its budget capped if it dared put up local taxes.

Moving forward a few years you suddenly happen across a lot more positive splashes, as we call them: the creation of Robin Park retail and sports park, major transformations to the town centre and a massive ski centre and Olympic pool complex called Xanadu in Leigh (all right, they didn’t all come to fruition).

Latterly there has inevitably been more negative than positive news about the local economy as long-treasured projects (Grand Arcade phases 2 and 3, re-developing the old town hall site and so on) go on the back burner.

Only the other day it was revealed that Morrisons is considering closing its Rathbone’s bakery in Wigan with the loss of scores of jobs.

But there have been some glimmerings too.

Unemployment fell for the second month in a row in April and then plans were unveiled for the redevelopment of an enterprise park at Ince which could create many jobs and build new homes too.

A few house-builders have stirred themselves to start constructing again and this week too a conference for local businesses was held unveiling the latest plans to press the former Westwood power station site into profitable use.

Much of this land has been going to waste for decades now and many have been the ambitious plans to turn it into a mega-job industrial estate.

It was the fashion for a while to have all sorts of eco-friendly features there and most recently it was earmarked as the base for an enormous Chinese textile development centre which would have given work to more than 1,000 Wiganers.

But each one has come to nothing and we have yet to see the major carriageway leading from Warrington Road taking shape that would help to open up the site and make it more appealing to investors.

However, the conference exhibits an optimistic new will that its high time businesses took the initiative and made the economy improve.

I sincerely hope that this time Westwood can really spearhead a Wigan economic recovery.