Wigan Pier relaunch delayed

The relaunch of Wigan Pier as a major visitor destination is to be set back months - and may not even happen until next year now.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 5:25 pm
The redeveloped Wigan Pier has had its big launch delayed

The relaunch of Wigan Pier as a major visitor destination is to be set back months - and may not even happen until next year now.

The man masterminding the project admitted this week that the latest stages of the transformation of the three canalside landmarks had encountered several difficulties in recent weeks, not least regarding the availability of specialist contractors during what is proving a boom time for the construction industry, Covid or not.

But Harinder Dhaliwal managing director of Manchester-based developer Step Places, said that the multi-million-pound project is still on track and that no-one was going to be rushed into completing such a special and important scheme for Wiganers.

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The Pier as it appears today

In February the Wigan Observer noted that activity around the former Way We Were museum, education centre and Orwell had noticeably quietened in recent months as new Covid restrictions bit and external restorations to the historic buildings neared completion.

But it was predicted that the place would soon be swarming with contractors as fitting-out got under way in earnest. And it was hoped that the enterprise - which also involves Wigan Council, The Old Courts and the Canal and River Trust - would be ready for opening in the late summer.

The old museum is to become home to a food hall, gin distillery and microbrewery, including vending stalls similar to those found at the hugely successful Mackie Mayor venue in Manchester.

The education centre will be re-born and the old Orwell will become an events facility.

Harinder Dhaliwal, managing director of Step Places with Councillor David Molyneux, leader for Wigan Council

However, since much of the heavy work was completed last year, passers-by will have noticed that little has changed since.

And Mr Dhaliwal admitted that things had not progressed as swiftly as expected.

He said: “There are several issues at the moment but the biggest one is that we are struggling to find contractors.

“They are all so busy. There may have been a pandemic and lockdown, but construction has continued virtually unabated throughout and there is a lot of work being commissioned and carried out all over the country - with the exception of London for some reason.

“There are a lot of industrial buildings being constructed at the moment and, because some people have saved up a lot of money during lockdown, there has been a big rise in spending on house makeovers too.

“So we are tendering out for three contractors: one who will do electricals and plumbing including lighting, heating, extractors, CCTV and toilets, another do to fit-outs for the bars, food market, gin distillery, microbrewery and kitchens at what was the Orwell; and then a general contractor for building work.

“As soon as we get these tenders back and contractors on board it will be all systems go. I would be hoping to get people on site in the next month to six weeks.

“But I don’t want to make false promises. We have to be mindful that the market is very competitive at present and it is possible now that the project will only be completed towards the end of the year or even at the beginning of the next one.

“It’s still all going ahead though. This is a very important project for the people of Wigan and we are not going to rush head first into things or cut corners to get it finished. We have paid great attention to detail and demanded the highest quality throughout and we are not going to change that way of thinking now.”

Mr Dhaliwal said that the “unique and historic” buildings had continued to present technical design challenges, not least because there is a lot of wood in the structure.

He also gave an example of decisions having to be made where to put extraction flues in relation to the preparation of food on the premises.

Yet he said it was good to “stress test” these challenges and that everyone was learning from what is a “fascinating project.”

There has also been a bit of a rethink on outdoor facilities. Given ongoing Covid restrictions, the aim is to have more seating outside, not least in the area between Piers 3 and 4.

But he said that there have been works continuing nonetheless - more railings have been painted this last week, for instance. And soon the big wooden doors on the side of Pier 4 near the Wallgate pedestrian crossing will be replaced.

New hoardings will also be erected, including one promoting the “rebirth of an icon” in the next few weeks, just to whet appetites further.

For the opening, though, Wiganers and visitors will have to be patient for a while longer as the chances of the project’s entering a fourth year increase.

When Step Places was revealed as Wigan Council’s chosen partner for the transformational project in early 2018 it was predicted that everything would be open within 12 months.

Events didn’t go entirely to plan, as is the way with such ambitions, and when work began in earnest on the restoration, the experts realised there was far more structural replacement work to be carried out on hitherto covered timber, metal and stonework than could be detected from initial examination.

Then came Covid and, while work continued for large parts of last year, it couldn’t go at full speed because of social distancing and because some suppliers weren’t able to send through the materials needed due to shutdowns and furlough.

But locals have been able to see these historical treasures being gradually brought back to life. And it still only remains a matter of time before they can be put to good use again.

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