CHARLES GRAHAM - Hope for the future

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I WAS kindly invited the other day to the launch of Wigan’s big new masterplan aimed at hauling the borough out of recession.

The Economic Framework, as it is rather unsexily called, maps out statements of intent about putting our area back on its feet between now and the far distant-sounding year 2026.

I thumbed through it in vain looking for those headline figures and targets that journalists use as pegs on which to hang their stories and so felt somewhat disappointed.

After all, anyone can make the right noises about “making the most of what Wigan has to offer” in terms of talent, infrastructure and even environmental features (remember our borough is 70 per cent green open space). But unless it is backed up with ideas for how this is all going to happen, especially in financial terms, and perhaps reinforced with a few targets to which to hold the authors then it can ring a bit hollow.

But then I spoke to several of those people behind the document. Not only our council leaders but some of our most successful businesspeople such as Martin Ainscough and Ian Lenagan.

Their enthusiasm and determination – coupled with their amazing entrepreneurial track records – was infectious. And after being reassured that more details about targets and figures will be fleshed out in the weeks to come, I left the meeting thinking that perhaps it wasn’t just a load of old hot air after all. The Wigan Forward Board, as this thinktank is called, already has some achievements to its name, cutting through bureaucracy and getting things done, whether it be the creation of the Wigan Warriors-linked Central Park academy at Pemberton or a rapid refurb of Wigan North Western Station which has long been a grotty introduction to the town and borough for many an impressionable first-time visitor.

And Wigan also has a history of success in previous gettings-together, whether it be the police and council uniting to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour or the old Wigan Borough Partnership which did much to bring inward investment into the area.

It certainly helps our prospects if bigwigs from the public, private and voluntary sector are all pulling in the same direction and together they can exercise more clout.

Yes there is a limit to what can be done if grants aren’t pouring in from Whitehall and Europe as they did in days of yore. But Wigan does have quite a number of assets that it could better exploit, not least its countryside as a visitor attraction, its brownfield sites for development and the motorway network plus the fact that it sits at the very heart of the North West industrial hub.

“Maximising Wigan’s potential” might sound a bit style-over-content Blairspeak. But if anyone can get spark a borough renaissance, this lot can!