New hope for abandoned Wigan store

Efforts to breathe new commercial life into an abandoned piece of Wigan history have been given fresh impetus.
An artist's impression of how the area would lookAn artist's impression of how the area would look
An artist's impression of how the area would look

From late Victorian times the modest red brick building down from the concrete civic centre on Millgate was home to Pennington’s Furniture, although before then it was a home right back to Georgian times.

But since the business closed in 2001 it has stood empty.

When the Grand Arcade was built a few years after Pennington’s put up the shutters, it was to have formed part of phase two of the retail development with the intention of turning it into a cafe-bar-restaurant.

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Indeed an unlisted section of the building was demolished in preparation for the works which would have involve new building work at the rear.

And because of its grade II listed status it has also since undergone restorative and weatherproofing work.

But after the economic crash, those further phases - which also included the so-called Tower Grand of hotel, offices and apartments at the bottom of Millgate - were shelved and there has been little progress in reviving them or finding replacements in a tough retail climate ever since.

However, in 2017 Zerum planning consultants entered an application to the council to refurbish the building and add a single-storey extension and roof terrace to create a cafe and restaurant.

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In the intervening years approaches have been made to potential tenants but to no avail.

Now planning consultants Savills have resubmitted a near identical application, again on the behalf of the Grand Arcade, as the original recently lapsed.

Arcade manager John Sanson said: “We have not given up on this site and the fresh application to the council gives the project new impetus.

“And our agents are hoovering around the market for potential businesses to come in, but it is a difficult market.

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“Sadly we haven’t got Pizza Express or The Ivy waiting in the wings, but this is a good spot with great potential.

“We have some good restaurants in Wigan, but they are small or regional operators. What we need is one major operator to come in then others may follow. This is what happened when we brought in Costa and that led to Caffe Nero and Starbucks arriving for the first time.

“There is room for more in town and if you talk to the existing operators I think you will find that they welcome more opposition because a greater array of eateries brings in more visitors.”

Katie Parfett from Savills said that they were hoping for an answer from Wigan Council planning department in the next four to five weeks, thereafter it was up to their clients to look for an operator.

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A feature of the Pennington premises is a carving of a baby’s head above the front door (now covered by protective cladding). The subject, legend has it, was a child who drowned in the River Douglas when its course flowed along the bottom of Millgate.

It had been a family business from 1882 to 2001 when the fourth generation of Penningtons decided to sell up to the then Grand Arcade developers Modus, not least because they had no younger relatives to succeed them.