Quarter of town centre shops are empty

Marketgate, The Galleries Wigan is full of empty shops
Marketgate, The Galleries Wigan is full of empty shops
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Wigan has been branded the third worst performing town centre in mainland Britain, with more than a quarter of its shops standing empty.

A new report by Local Data Company (LDC) reveals that the town has a vacancy rate of 27.8 percent, which has risen by 2.8 per cent from 2014.

Based on this criterion alone, this places Wigan behind only Burslem in the West Midlands and Newport in Wales at the bottom of the national unit vacancy table.

And it is not likely to get better in the immediate future as the figure does not factor in the closure of the Morrisons store in the Galleries later this spring.

Meanwhile, the Galleries shopping centre has been sold with new owners - US based Colony Capital - who are considering significant changes to the £60m Makinson Quarter masterplan which was intended to breathe new leisure and retail life into that end of town.

At the other side of the town centre, the Tower Grand hotel and retail scheme has been scrapped with developers now hoping to build an 120-strong apartment block in its place.

But it has not all been doom and gloom, as Toys R Us moved into the Leigh Arcade, in the former New Look store and away from the town centre, there have been plans unveiled for a KFC drive-through and Nandos at Robin Park Retail Park.

And Wigan Council said it is investing more than £2m to redevelop the town centre.

Emma Barton, assistant director for economic development and skills, said: “We all know people’s shopping and leisure habits are changing and this is having an impact on the high street. We’ve got to make sure our town centres are fit for the future and that’s what significant investment by Wigan Council is all about.

“We are investing £2.2m to redevelop and revitalise Wigan and Leigh town centres.

“Creating town centres that local people are proud of and which meet the needs of the local community is an important priority for the council.

“We have a planned programme of events in the town centres, such as the European food markets currently in Wigan, to help drive shoppers onto the high street and into our local shops.

“Small businesses are a vital part of our economy too so it is essential that we are able to help and support them. Our business engagement team is available to support local businesses that are at risk of closure and we would urge them to get in touch.”

The Galleries Shopping Centre Manager, Lynette Howgate, said: “The Galleries is the subject of exciting redevelopment proposals that will provide the type of new, modern retail space demanded by today’s retail and leisure occupiers who are keen to come to Wigan. To enable work to start on site it is necessary for areas of The Galleries to be vacated while the owners continue to work with their advisors on the complex steps required to deliver these proposals.”

And a spokesman for the LDC remains optimistic that 2015 saw an improvement in vacancy rates as a whole.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at LDC said: “For a number of towns and shopping centres times are still very challenging where towns such as Wigan all have one in four of their shops lying empty. The North West has significant issues in the number of long-term vacant units where over six per cent of their total stock has been vacant for more than three years whilst in Greater London the number is just above two per cent.

“But 2015 was an encouraging year for the overall health of town centres, retail parks and shopping centres. The wide improvements in vacancy rates are a result of more shops being filled rather than a reduction in the stock.”