Housing boss lifts the lid on Wigan Pier's new homes
There is nothing quite like them anywhere else in Greater Manchester.
So says the man heading the redevelopment of Wigan Pier’s famous buildings, although in this instance Harinder Dhaliwal is talking about the new homes that have sprung up alongside them.
The ready-made modules arrived shrink-wrapped on the backs of lorries from a factory in Derbyshire over the August bank holiday weekend and were lowered and stacked by crane to overlook the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, causing quite a stir in the process.
Since then, workmen have been putting the finishing touches to the eight town houses who should be welcome residents within weeks.
So what is so special about these waterside dwellings that makes them worth their £270k to £285k asking prices?
Well the two main things are that they come virtually ready to live in, bar bringing your own furniture and other possessions, and they have all manner of mod cons and eco-friendly features in the quest for comfortable and carbon-neutral 21st century living.
And there has been no shortage of interest in the properties, says Mr Dhaliwal, the MD of Manchester-based Step Places, as he gives us a tour of the show home. While there are a few finishing touches to be put to the overall site, three have already been snaffled up and there have been people of all ages and backgrounds showing an interest in the in the remainder.
He added: “As a place-making business we are always looking to future-proof our homes.
“We don’t cut corners and all kinds of features here come as standard that would not be in the price of a national house-builder’s home.”
One feature is an air source heat pump: a low energy heating system which extracts warmth from the air and is seen as the future of domestic heating, especially as gas will be abolished in all new homes (apart from for use in cookers) by 2023.
The sound-proofing (and heat-proofing for that matter) is remarkable. The front of the homes is but a few yards from Wallgate and at the time of the tour, heavy traffic was swooshing past in heavy rain. Yet when the door was properly closed, not a sound from outside could be heard. All flooring and tiling is already in place for the new residents - in fact they were in place before arriving in Wigan!
There is decking at the rear looking out onto the canal. It is made from recycled plastic so is extremely low maintenance and each of the three-storey buildings has a roof terrace on the top floor.
The homes are fitted with alarms while security lighting and an outdoor plug for a computer or heater are also handy extras.
The master bedroom with en suite is on the top floor, a second bedroom, also with en suite on the middle storey along with a third room that could either be used as an office or a third bedroom and off from the ground floor kitchen is a room which can double as a downstairs toilet and utility room.
Mr Dhaliwal said: “The term of the moment is MMC: modern methods of construction and this is exactly what these modular homes are.
“They are the future of house-building in many ways. Everything is done to a high specification and there are all manner of features that would in the past not have come as standard.
“By doing so much of the work in the factory - including flooring, tiles, windows and doors - you are able to maintain a consistent standard of excellence which building regulators expect of developers these days. And it can also save time. On rain-drenched days like this one you would not be able to have a bricklayer on site, but this way, all that comes ready done on the back of a 38-tonnne lorry.
“It is also virtually maintenance-free.”
Mr Dhaliwal said there were still a few matters to attend to including some landscaping and the creation of an allotment on the land between the final home and Seven Stars Bridge, but otherwise the project had been completed in a matter of six months, the first part of it having involved laying the services and foundations.
He added: “We are very proud of this project. There is nothing else like it anywhere else in Greater Manchester, never mind Wigan, so far as I know. And we want people to move into something that is more than just a place but a home.”
And so what of the trio of Pier buildings that Step Places have also been working on?
The homes were meant to be the final part of the site’s jigsaw but are now set to be the first to be completed.
Well, work has slowed on the attractions’ refurbishment due to the Covid-19 pandemic - and has also taken longer than expected because of all kinds of quirks and faults being gradually uncovered in the venerable buildings - but it hasn’t stopped.
Externally Mr Dhaliwal says that there are more railings to renovate, several doors to install and the section between what used to be The Orwell and The Way We Were (Now Piers No3 and No4) tidied up and landscaped.
The last of these will be left until last because so many heavy vehicles have been driving all over it throughout the work.
Once that is complete Step Places can concentrate on the inside. A huge amount of rotten timber work has already been replaced although there is a keenness to keep as many features from the buildings’ industrial and touristy pasts in place as possible when they are used as a food hall, micro brewery and events venue.
The next step is to install the M&E - mechanical and electrical features - including plumbing, power and ventilation.
Mr Dhaliwal said he reckoned that that would take four to five months to complete, after which a future-proofed shell will be handed over to The Old Courts and businesses to fit out.
His best guess at an opening date for the public was next June.
He said: “This is a very special project and we want to get every aspect of it to be just right.
“When it opens I am sure it will be well worth the wait. There won’t be anything like this for miles around and I think people will come to visit from a long way away.”
The original dateline for opening had been earlier this year, then it moved to October and now, due to Covid and the Old Courts saying recently that they need to concentrate on generating more money for their Royal Court Theatre project on King Street before turning to the Pier, there had been fears it might keep slipping further and further into the future.
But Becca Heron, Wigan Council’s director for economy and skills, said: “We remain as committed as ever to the opening of Wigan Pier with a long-term vision of developing a new offer that will attract visitors, which includes culture, leisure and employment opportunities.
“The opening of the Pier has never been more important with the cultural and events sector being badly hit by the pandemic and we hope it’ll be operational in early 2021.”
A picture special of the Pier homes interior will be published on Friday October 9
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