Wigan Pier revamp set to take another year to complete

The rebirth of Wigan Pier as a new visitor attraction is only set now to be completed next summer.

By Charles Graham
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 3:45 pm

But those behind the multi-million-pound scheme believe that the final chapter in this mammoth regeneration project won’t be stalled further after years of set-backs beyond their control.

It was also revealed today that the complex is to get a new canal crossing, replacing the existing footbridge between Wallgate and Southgate near Wigan Pier No 1.

It was back in 2018 that it was announced that developer Step Places, Wigan Council, The Old Courts and the Canal and River Trust were going into partnership to redevelop the long disused Orwell pub, education centre and The Way We Were Museum.

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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.

Perhaps over-ambitiously, an opening date in 2019 was originally set, but since then much work has been carried out on bringing each of the buildings back to their former glory as far as their fabric, weather-proofing and external look have been concerned.

The footbridge over the canal near Wigan Pier buildings, from Wallgate to Pottery Road Wigan - which will be replaced.

But the final pieces of the jigsaw – namely all the fitting-out work – have been repeatedly delayed by Covid lockdowns, shortages of materials and staff, soaring costs and contractors with enough work to fill up their diaries for years let alone months or weeks.

However Step Places, having had to go back to the drawing board after another deal fell through, has now secured a main contractor for the fitting-out process.

MD Harinder Dhaliwal said: “We have been through some unprecedented times which have impacted on this project in a way no-one could have predicted. All sorts of things conspired to make things difficult, not least the pandemic, lockdown and their impact which created a nervousness in the hospitality industry.

"Then there have been labour shortages and rocketing costs which have made it very difficult to pin down deals.

Step Places managing director Harinder Dhaliwal.

"But we have always said we wanted to do this properly, that we aren’t going to rush things or cut corners.

"We want the Pier to be really special for Wigan and it takes time to get everything right, especially when architects, structural engineers and contractors have all been so very, very busy. We also wanted to be as sure as we could be that there wouldn’t be any more lockdowns.”

Mr Dhaliwal said that the fitting out was likely to begin in August and there would be a change of plans in that it was probable that there would be a phased opening now, rather than the full complex launching at once.

He added: “What was The Way We Were – Pier 4 - is a bigger building, a few extra things have popped up that need addressing, including more timberwork issues, and all the different traders who will occupy the premises will have different demands – for instance fire-proofing – which adds further complexity, so that is likely now to be completed in June or July next year.

Designs for the new footbridge have yet to be completed

"However it is estimated that the other two buildings – Piers 2 and 3 – will take six months to complete so they would be ready for opening in March.”

Mr Dhaliwal said the new bridge would be another attractive feature that would be in keeping with its surroundings.

He added that The Old Courts had quite a big list of interested parties for Pier 4 tenants and that a final line-up would be ready within weeks.

The former industrial buildings at the Pier were for generations so much of an eyesore that music hall legend George Formby Snr made a joke about them.

But in the 1980s, enterprising councillors decided to capitalise on that jest and turn the area into a tourist attraction.

Coupled with the magnificent steam engine and working looms at nearby Trencherfield Mill, The Way We Were, education centre and Orwell became the second most visited venues in the North West after Blackpool Pleasure Beach for several years running.

The museum was staffed by young actors posing as Victorian characters, not least a ferocious teacher in the schoolroom.

For a while Trencherfield Mill also became home to the Robert Opie Museum of Memories, but that eventually moved on. And come the end of the century, the Pier’s star was fading, its demise accelerated by the sudden proliferation of new attractions around the country backed by unprecedented amounts of millennium cultural grants.

And so the pierside premises closed and fell into disrepair.

The Orwell re-opened for a while as a comedy club, but it didn’t last. There were moves to turn The Way We Were into the nation’s rugby league museum, but they came to nought.

With brown tourist signs still directing Wigan visitors to the now mothballed buildings, the Pier was in danger of reverting to a joke again until the 2018 masterplan was unveiled.

It is hoped that this redevelopment will lead to further economic boosts for Wigan, bringing the complex closer to the town centre following Wallgate’s upgrade and with the opening of more hospitality businesses in the railway arches.

There is fresh hope too for the renaissance of the neighbouring and huge Eckersley Mills after it fell into new hands after years of decay.

And other sites are ripe for redevelopment, such as the land where the old ambulance station once stood on Pottery Road.