Business leaders have welcomed the purchase of a town centre shopping centre by Wigan Council - hailing it as the best news to hit the town centre for decades.
As revealed in last week’s Wigan Observer, the council has acquired The Galleries to drive forward the regeneration of the centre after years of stagnation and decline.
New diverse uses for The Galleries will be identified by the council and new retailers will be sought to breathe new life into the centre, alongside retention of its most popular stores.
The acquisition is part funded by the dividend the council receives from Manchester Airport.
Business leaders, many of whom sit on the borough’s public-private partnership Forward Board, welcomed the investment.
John Hughes, Forward Board member and managing director for construction company Hughes Brothers, said: “This is the best news for Wigan since the Galleries was first built, of which I was fortunate to be part back in the mid-’80s.
“It is excellent news for the future of the town centre. This successful bid only happened as a result of hard work and dedication by Emma Barton and her team at Wigan Council.”
Gary Speakman, deputy chief executive for Shearings Leisure Group based in Wigan, said: “With over 200 members of the Shearings Leisure Group team located within a short walk of the town centre, the regeneration of the Galleries, Marketgate and the Makinson Arcade is excellent news for us all.
“This specific initiative and the wider development plans for the centre will further strengthen the case for Wigan to be seen as a great place to work and live.”
The Galleries was built in the late 1980s and was very popular in its heyday but is now more than half empty with a dated design and changing modern shopping habits, including online retail and out of town centres, contributing to its difficulties.
The council feared if the decline was allowed to continue it will have far-reaching knock-on effects for the wider town centre and could possibly close altogether creating a huge mothballed site in the town centre.
New potential uses for the centre, alongside its retail offer include leisure, food and drink and residential development.
This will create a more vibrant town centre and support retailers with increased footfall.
Victoria Nichol, centre manager for the Galleries, described the reaction of tenants in the centre as one of “extreme excitement”.
She said: “We have had the most overwhelming response from our tenants with many of them clapping hands and smiling like Cheshire cats.
“The news has been received with extreme excitement. The team are all really looking forward to the future.”
Karen Cox, Centre Manager for the Spinning Gate Shopping Centre in Leigh, said: “Having started my career at The Galleries Shopping Centre it is, and will always remain, of significant importance to me.
“It is vitally important for a town centre to have popular and attractive shopping centres.
“We wish the council and the team at The Galleries a successful and prosperous future.”
Phil Eckersley, managing director Bridgewater Home Care and a member of the Forward Board, said: “I am buoyed by the acquisition of The Galleries Shopping Centre by Wigan Council after the area suffering years of decline.
“We have seen how local authorities, such as Trafford in Altrincham, have transformed the town centre by investing in the area and creating a pull into the town from neighbouring areas leading to increased attractiveness for local businesses, the local community and potential new tax paying residents.
“Wigan Council has a golden opportunity now to create a town centre that will be the catalyst to the ‘next stage’ of Wigan’s growth and development.
“I am excited for the future of Wigan, I am proud to have a business in this borough and will be eagerly awaiting the end result of this regeneration project.”
Howard Gallimore, town centre restaurant and café owner, described the news as “like Wigan winning the lottery”.
Real estate specialists CBRE have now been commissioned by the council to create a future plan for the centre with a masterplan to identify more diverse uses to match current and future trends and the modern economy.
Lord Smith, leader of Wigan Council, said: “The council is now investing for the good of the town and the local economy.
“This is an exciting new chapter for Wigan town centre.”