IT has been one of Wigan’s biggest and most persistent eyesores.
And while there have been fresh hopes recently that the ruins of the old town hall might finally be transformed into a major new development, the more urgent fear now is that what remains could fall down.
Which is why this week the facade on Rodney Street was suddenly encased in protective scaffolding as engineers endeavoured to protect the listed structure which, after recent inspection by experts, has been labelled “dangerously unsound”.
The old town hall shut more than 20 years ago and soon after the bulk of it was knocked down in the hope of imminent redevelopment. Its frontage, however, is Grade II listed and could not be demolished.
The fact that this has to be incorporated tastefully into the fabric of any new development has been one of several reasons why little has happened to the site in the two decades since apart from some of the land being turned into a carpark.
But the part of the surviving building that looks onto King Street is now said to be close to collapse because of badly weathered brickwork. Emergency action to demolish this unstable section will begin immediately to protect public safety and take about two weeks.
The demolition of a listed portion of building has been backed by independent surveyors, including officers from English Heritage. The remaining part on Rodney Street will be retained.
The authority today came under attack from Brian Parr of the Save Wigan Heritage Group who accused it of being “irresponsible” in not stepping in earlier. He said: “This is merely neglect, failing to monitor closely and take remedial action to counteract water damage, etc. Wigan Council’s strategy on listed buildings is to let them fall down due to decay and jump at the 11th hour with some implausible story to make it look as though they are acting in the public interest. The public interest is only served by preservation of listed buildings.”
But Steve Normington, director of economy at Wigan Council, said: “Steve Normington, director for economy at Wigan Council, said: “The old town hall has previously been subject to legal action from the council under its statutory powers, however, due to the building and adjacent land being in different offshore ownership, enforcement has proved difficult. The council has taken the decision to carry out the necessary demolition works as the building is now in imminent danger of collapse.”