Wigan market traders say Galleries redevelopment is wrecking business
Stallholders have made an impassioned plea for Wigan residents to keep supporting them, saying that already quiet footfall has plummeted by “at least another third” since the nearest bus stop to them was closed, disabled parking bays are off-limits, the mall’s public toilets were shut and more access points sealed off.
With many of their regular and most loyal customers being elderly and infirm, these extra obstacles are proving the final straw for many of them.
Traders report distressed older clients saying they are having to walk too far in order to access the market and won’t be returning. There have been embarrassing scenes involving the lack of lavatory facilities and a number of businesses are wondering just how much longer they can last.
The demolition work is necessary to make way for a new multi-million-pound regeneration project, called Galleries25, which aims to transform the town centre’s flagging fortunes with a shift in emphasis away from retail and more towards entertainment and hospitality plus accommodation.
Shops in other parts of the Galleries had decamped or closed by the turn of the year but the traders occupying Wigan’s indoor market have stayed put on a promise that their new, more compact, hall will be the first part of the new complex to be completed – a date of 2024 has been given – but many wonder whether they can stay in business for that long.
Hot food stall owner Kathleen Clunan said: “Our customers deserve better than this, some of them are facing downright humiliation.
"Access to the hall is now very difficult for a lot of people with mobility problems. One gentleman who used to be able to park in a disabled bay outside came the other day, saying he’d had to park on Standishgate. He said ‘I just about made it this time, but I don’t think I’ll make it again.’
"We have had customers needing to use the toilets but the nearest public ones are at the bus station and there’s no way straight through to there anymore. We took one lady to use the staff toilets but a cleaner told her to get out and she left in tears. Another poor woman soiled herself. This just insn’t good enough.
"It’s like having the Berlin Wall round us at the moment. People can’t get in and people can’t get out.
"Footfall never picked up from Covid but it’s dropped off by another third now.
"We were told we’d move into the new market in 2024 but the project is already eight months behind schedule and who’s to say how many people will be able to last even two years in these conditions?
“We desperately need the people of Wigan to keep supporting us.”
Sheila Bailey has run a ladies’ clothing stall in Wigan for four decades. She said: “I am very despondent. The market is going to go down and down because of the footfall.
"There is nothing to encourage people to come with their custom here. We were promised big hoardings directing the public to the few remaining access points but there have only been tiny signs so far.
"And even with the signage, a lot of customers are struggling.
"The loss of the bus stop on New Market Street – we are told for 400 days so workers’ portable cabins can go there – is the single biggest blow.
"That’s the key drop-off point for older visitors to the town. They can walk straight in from there. Now the bus carries on into the station and when the shoppers come out of the station onto Market Street they can’t walk straight across like they used to but all the way round onto new Market Street.
"This is putting a lot of people off. One was saying they would go to Leigh market from now on.
“The irony is that all the shops closed in January and then nothing happened. They could have gone on trading for another eight months.
"And we don’t know anyone who wants this new project. They want more shops. Wigan is a market town – it’s not like Manchester where people will sit out drinking £5 cups of coffee.
"There used to be several butcher’s shops in the market but the last one closed about four months because he could see what was coming. For a town centre as big as Wigan not to have a single shop where you can buy fresh meat is an absolute disgrace.
"The simple fact is that with all these barriers up, people can’t get to us anymore. Only the die-hards are coming now.
"Traders are getting to the stage where they are wondering how much longer they can survive.”
Aidan Thatcher, director of growth and economy at Wigan Council, said: “This £135m Galleries redevelopment scheme will transform the town centre, bringing new opportunities to create a vibrant and revitalised place for the benefit of the borough, the town, our businesses, and residents.
"At the heart of the scheme is a new state of the art market hall, anticipated for completion in 2024. The Council is committed to delivering all phases of the redevelopment as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“The Council has and will continue to support traders during the transition period before the new market hall opens.
"We have introduced a comprehensive support package, including financial and business support, with an automatic reduction in licence fees in place since June 2022.
"In addition, the recent appointment of market animation specialists PlaceCo will help support Wigan Market with events, marketing and business support.
“Site hoarding is now being installed around the perimeter of the Galleries development site, as is required by law.
"Vibrant and attractive artwork is being added to the hoarding over the next few weeks. This hoarding will include helpful signage and wayfinding to direct visitors and shoppers to the entrances of the market and other areas.
“The main public toilets in the Galleries are closed due to works starting in that area of the site.
"Following feedback from traders and customers we will be opening the trader toilets situated in the market hall to the public in the next week. Until then signs have been erected letting the public know of alternative nearby public toilets.
‘’The Council created eight new disabled paying bays on Back Mesnes Street as a replacement for the bays which are no longer in use on the New Market Street layby. These have been operational since 29/05/2022.
“Whilst we acknowledge the changes on site will take some time for the public to familiarise themselves with, we are excited to enter the next phase of the town centre redevelopment project which will result in significantly improved facilities for our residents, businesses and visitors.”