The leader of Wigan Council has revealed hopes to bring a leisure offering to the town with plans to build restaurants and bars in the former Galleries shopping complex.
Lord Peter Smith told the town hall of the project at a full council meeting last week after coming under fire from Coun Bob Brierley.
Other news: Plans unveiled for new Wigan hotel, pub and restaurant
The independent councillor accused the leader of buying “another white elephant” and claimed that the deal was done “behind closed doors”.
A debate ensued after Lord Smith presented a review of the deal in which he claimed that the digital market was growing fast with people spending more than £4,000 each on goods online per year.
Coun Brierley asked why the council was investing in retail sites if it believed that the digital market was putting real stores out of business.
“Why have you bought the Galleries?” he said, addressing Lord Smith. “We weren’t told about it, it was dropped on us. There’s a lack of information towards councillors.
“Why aren’t we being told about what’s going on in our town. Why have you bought the Galleries for £8m? We have bought another white elephant.”
But Lord Smith was quick to defend the decision to purchase the struggling shopping centre, saying that the details of any commercial purchase would not automatically be released into the public domain.
“We got it for a bargain price because of the impact on the retail sector,” he said.
“We want to change its use to get more leisure activities in there so that people have different reasons to come into the town centre. We are not going to try and create a new shopping centre, that wouldn’t be in the interest of anybody.
“This way we have much more control and much more say over what goes on.
“It was a really good buy and a really good bargain.”
Lord Smith mentioned leisure facilities including the introduction of restaurants and bars.
The council has bought the entire retail complex, including Makinson Arcade, Marketgate, the indoor market hall and the former Morrison’s site, which altogether makes up almost 150 units and provides scores of jobs.
The town hall has already said it had “no choice” but to step in with the purchase of the ailing complex after receiving numerous complaints from local businesses who were appalled by the state of some of the units.
Built in the 1980s, The Galleries has come to look increasingly dated and has suffered from lack of interest from businesses, with owners last year closing off the entirety of Marketgate to the public.
The council has become increasingly alarmed at the effect a mothballed shopping centre could have on the entire middle of Wigan, while the loss of business rates has also had an impact.