AMBITIOUS plans for a multi-million pound development in Wigan could spark a bidding war between rival shopping centres.
Bosses at the Grand Arcade have unveiled a multi-million pound master-plan to create a leisure quarter next to Believe Square, town hall and life centre buildings.
Including a cinema, restaurants and bars, the new £8m development is hoped to inject “a much needed night-time economy” to Wigan.
However, the plans, which are set to be submitted to the council, are directly in competition to the proposed £60m makeover of The Galleries, which is currently under consideration by planning officials.
Adrian Oliver speaking on behalf of the team behind The Galleries’ plan, said the latest scheme “is somewhat late in the day but will make life interesting.”
And concerns have been raised that while the outside investment in Wigan should be welcomed, the town would not be able to support two leisure and entertainment quarters less than a mile apart.
Steve Normington, Wigan Council’s Director of Economny, said: “It is pleasing to see such interest in the town centre but we will clearly not be in a position to consider this new scheme for some time yet. When there is something before us we will be able to evaluate its merits more fully.”
Redefine, the owners of the Grand Arcade, told the Observer a cinema operator has already shown a firm interest in their development.
The plans would mean redeveloping the former Pennington’s furniture building and also the Civic Centre, although it is understood that Wigan Council does not have an agreement in place for any such development of the Civic Centre which houses hundreds of staff.
Nick Gregory, Redefine senior retail manager, said: “We do not believe that the current development proposals for The Galleries enhance the role and function of the town centre and they are unlikely to deliver the step-change in the quality of provision in leisure facilities to capitalise on latent demand.
“Our proposals would deliver a rational and well-reasoned use for the Civic Centre site to create a major asset for the town centre and also ensure the protection and refurbishment of the Pennington’s building. This is a minimal move with a maximum impact approach.
“The leisure project that we are proposing is about the whole of Wigan as a town and its future compared to other towns and cities in the area. We have offered our help to develop the right solution for the Civic Centre and Galleries site, effectively creating a masterplan for the town.“
No date has been set for the Grand Arcade’s submission to the council’s planning officers, although the Observer understands it could be imminent.
Mr Oliver of Vale Asset Management, responsible for pulling together the redevelopment of The Galleries, said: “This new planning proposal by Grand Arcade is somewhat late in the day but will make life interesting.
“In our view, the town needs both a strong Galleries as well as a strong Grand Arcade for the benefit of the town as a whole.
“Set to be completed in 2019, The Makinson Quarter will pull visitors back into Wigan’s historic core with the draw of new shops, restaurants and bars as well as a new gym and cinema. These will be set around pristine public spaces.”
The Grand Arcade plan, which has come out of the blue for council officials, comes a week after the local authority unveiled its own £1.3m makeover project for Market Place.
Mr Gregory added: “This is a unique opportunity to create something special for Wigan. Our development would introduce family leisure facilities in the town centre and add to the quality of restaurants and nighttime economy to rival competition from local towns. Wigan risks losing more evening trade in the town centre if it does not keep up with the competition in the region such as Bolton, Bury and Warrington as well as the major cities such as Manchester and Liverpool.
“The stand out feature of our proposals will be the quality of the public realm, which will bring to life the council’s own fantastic public space around the Civic Centre site.
“Wigan has the opportunity to deliver a marked change in its town centre offer which would enable it to compete with other towns in the region as a quality, family focused leisure destination. We firmly believe the Grand Arcade would be the best site to deliver on this offer.”
Wigan Council’s director of economy, Steve Normington, welcomed the two schemes as evidence of the continued vitality of the town centre as a trading centre.
But he pointed out that over two and half years of talks had taken place between the owners of The Galleries and planners before the company felt it was in a satisfactory position to submit a planning application, now due to finally be heard in November.
Because The Galleries application was “so far down the road,” it would now become incumbent on the applicants behind The Grand scheme to work up and submit Retail Impact Survey analysing the effect of its development.
Mr Normington said: “The Grand scheme would need to demonstrate the viability of two multiplex cinemas chasing the same movie goers in the town centre ... with an existing cinema complex already in full swing at Robin Park.”
Deputy leader, Coun David Molyneux, said that the fact that The Grand shopping centre was also intending to submit a major redevelopment scheme demonstrated another significant vote of confidence in the town centre.
He said: “We have got to see exactly what they are proposing because we are not at the stage of having received any application.
“There is no question this shows their belief in Wigan.”