Wiganers have voiced fears over the future of Wigan town centre after two more retailers joined the exodus.
Readers were commenting after the Wigan Evening Post reported that the Toys R Us store in the Galleries had closed its doors.
Council chiefs today moved to say that better times were around the corner, while explaining issues highlighted by readers as problems for the town.
Toys R Us had launched as a pop-up shop towards the end of last year but hopes had been raised that it would become a permanent fixture after staying put six months after Christmas.
But now it has gone, hot on the heels of the Swarowski jewellery store in nearby Makinson Arcade.
They are the latest in a long procession of retailers to leave that part of town, particularly since the building of the Grand Arcade a decade ago.
The plan for that new shopping centre factored in the possibility of certain Galleries businesses’ moving across to larger units, but then new retailers were meant to come in to occupy the vacated Galleries units.
This, by and large, has not happened, one of history’s largest recessions contributing to those follow-up investments failing to arrive.
And so it is that the Galleries and adjoining Marketgate centres are largely empty. And with major plans on hold to reorder much of this end of town, perhaps with the creation of new leisure facilities including restaurants and a cinema, visitors to our wigantoday website were blaming all manner of reasons for Wigan’s retail woes, including high business rates and market rents, plus supermarkets and online sales.
Scott Taylor said: “I have a shop in the Galleries. The rents are sensible under the new owners.
“The council set the rates. A unit that is 10m x 6m cost about £1,000 a month in rates alone. That’s what’s killing this town. That and parking charges.
“The council set the rents in the market and they are extortionate prices.”
Paul Prescott said: “The problem with Wigan is people don’t spend and the sooner that’s accepted the better. My dad had a shop my aunt had a shop and I had a shop. The problem was never the rent or the rates. The problem was supermarkets, ebay and the internet.
“If a business can’t afford the rent and rates then it’s not a viable business. When you do a business plan the rent and rates are the first two major outgoings.”
Victoria Turner said: “Other shops will start closing soon as people won’t want to pay car park prices if there’s hardly anything in Wigan.”
But Karl Battersby, Wigan Council’s director for economy and environment, said: “Wigan town centre is a very popular shopping destination with a wide range of major high street names as well as independent shops and popular markets.
“Over the coming year there is more than £22m of investment being ploughed into the town centre with major improvements for Market Place, a new Wigan Bus Station and improved access for pedestrians in the east and north of the town centre.
“This significant investment will improve the attractiveness and accessibility of the town centre for its thousands of visitors in the years to come and underlines our commitment to the future of the town centre as a prosperous and vibrant place to visit.
“We are also working on developing a town centre masterplan. This will incorporate the exciting plans for Wigan Pier Quarter as well as new ambitious uses for some areas of the centre as part of a wider town centre vision.”
On the subject of non-domestic rates, Mr Battersby said: “Like all other council areas business rates in Wigan are worked out based on the property’s ‘rateable value’.
“This is its open market rental value based on an estimate by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA).”
And on car park fees, he said: “We have attractively priced parking on offer close to the Galleries and the plans to redevelop the bus station in that area of town will help create a better public space which will draw more people in to the Galleries and the markets.”