CHARLES GRAHAM - Land of empty ideas

AND so the dream has ended.

For as many years as I haven been working here (23 and counting), I have been writing about ambitious new plans for the site of the former Westwood Power Station.

Funnily enough I only saw a film the other week of the infamous cooling towers’ demolition in the late ‘80s and even then there was great optimism about a new era of prosperity based on the commercial exploitation of a vast and under-used brownfield site.

The hoped-for renaissance started quite well with the building of Girobank’s £12.6m second operations centre (opened in 1992 by the Princess Royal no less) and more was expected to follow soon after.

We at the paper kept being sent highly detailed artists’ impressions of business parks with the promise of hundreds of jobs.

One was to be at the vanguard of commercial eco-friendliness and in fact the blueprint won an environmental award.

Images of grassed roofs and solar sails to heat the buildings sitting around tranquil lakes looked most appealing.

But it, like its predecessors, never got off the drawing board.

Undaunted council chiefs then, however, came up with an even more ambitious plan.

After much trans-continental to-ing and fro-ings by local and Chinese bigwigs between Wigan and Beijing, it was announced that Westwood was being sized up as a new European textile research and development complex for the emerging oriental juggernaut.

Up to 1,000 jobs would be created by our little old town becoming one of China’s main trade “gateways” to the western world.

We were all delighted and perhaps seduced by such spectacular prospects.

It fostered spin-off plans such as turning the former Wigan Police headquarters on Harrogate Street into a hotel for visitors to the site and approval was granted for a new road linking Westwood to Warrington Road at Goose Green, opening up more land for development (while trying to bypass the ecologically-sensitive Flashes) and relieving congestion on Poolstock Lane.

In the meantime perhaps the most expensive road in terms of pounds per foot of asphalt was built to open up the site from the town centre and certain council operations moved to the north end.

But that’s been about it. ChinaMex came to nought and the recession made sure that there was little hurry to find another replacement.

Now a 25-year wait for long-term economy-boosting inward investment has been abandoned and plans unveiled to build a large housing estate at Westwood instead.

I’m not saying this is the wrong thing to do. After all, a quarter of a century is a pretty long time to flog several dead horses.

And of course the building of hundreds of houses will give the economy a temporary lift through construction jobs.

A new information centre for the Flashes should help to increase money-spending visitors to the area and it looks like the above-mentioned relief road plans will be taken out of mothballs too.

But the hoped-for commercial powerhouse for generations to come it no longer will be.

And I’m rather sad about that.