Galleries purchase is defended
The town hall has not '˜put the cart before the horse' in buying an ailing Wigan shopping centre, according to a council boss.
Paul McKevitt said the authority is considering ‘a number of options’ for The Galleries having agreed an Â£8m deal in February.
The move was placed under the spotlight at the latest meeting of the council’s audit committee with leader of the opposition Coun Michael Winstanley asking whether a regeneration plan is in place.
Mr McKevitt, the council’s deputy chief executive, said the authority risked ‘losing control’ of the town centre if it had passed on the opportunity.
Coun Winstanley highlighted that the annual statement of accounts presented to the committee stated the purchase acquired ‘a key strategic focal point’ and ‘work is now underway to determine the best regeneration opportunity’.
The Tory councillor asked: “Would we normally invest in something and then say, well actually, we’ll have a look at how we can regenerate it? If it’s going to be a white elephant why would we invest millions in it, to start off with?
“I know we’re not just looking at traditional retail, we’re looking at a new leisure facility, but it seems as though we’ve put the cart before the horses in some respects if we haven’t identified what we’re going to do with it before we purchased it.
“If we are making those kind of substantial investments would we not have worked to a plan before we invested?”
Mr McKevitt said there was time pressure on the purchase and the town hall does ‘have an idea of what we want to do’.
He told the committee: “The shopping centre was owned by an American finance company…they were looking to dispose of it by a certain date and there was a time issue.
“There was a risk around if the council didn’t get involved, what would happen to The Galleries?
“The advice we were getting was that it would drop off the level of a private finance company being interested and we would get the smaller scale property developers interested who would just look to manage the asset as it had been, which was running it down.
“There was a danger we would have no control over the town centre, the asset would pass to someone else.”
Funds for the purchase were found from the council’s dividend from its shares in Manchester Airport, the town hall has previous said.
Mr McKevitt added: “We did have some ideas (before the deal) about what we want to do with it, maybe that’s not written as well as it could have been in the report.We’re looking at a number of options, in terms of a partner or a developer getting involved.”
The council had originally sold the town centre shopping complex in 1996 for more than Â£90m but it has been in decline in recent years and is more than half empty.
It was subject to a proposed Â£60m redevelopment in 2014 but the private scheme was later shelved after the unit was sold to US based Colony Capital.
It is understood the town hall will reveal its plans for The Galleries later in the year with the cabinet scheduled to discuss its town centre masterplan in a session closed to the public next week.