CHARLES GRAHAM: What direction next for our town centre?

The former Morrisons supermarket
The former Morrisons supermarket

What a sad week it has been for Wigan’s retail scene.

Firstly Morrisons, who had already fled its Galleries base several years ago, has now literally put up the shutters at its Ince store as well.

It was a key employer in one of the more deprived areas of the borough and a handy out-of-town stop-over for many a shopper.

But there were clearly not enough of the latter and the bean counters did their worst.

One can only now wonder who might want to occupy the land instead, if anyone.

The borough still needs much affordable housing so perhaps that is the way to go. The worst fear is that it will just sit there for years, encircled by its steel barricade and evenutally subjected to one of those “urban warrior” videos of its dark and abandoned interior.

If that wasn’t bad enough, just two days later, the town centre’s Marks and Spencer shut down too.

Yes, M&S did open a food hall at Robin Park yesterday and we all know that food is the way forward if the department store chain is to continue thriving.

But it still feels like a loss.

Why they couldn’t have just stayed put in the building they own on Standishgate and make it more food-oriented (perhaps selling off the upper floor to another business) I still haven’t fathomed.

The leader of Wigan Council David Molyneux (in whose ward Ince Morrisons fell, incidentally) says he is confident that such a prime spot will find a new occupant and I dearly hope so.

For we know that it is unlikely that M&S will be the last name to depart the town centre as many retailers continue to feel the pinch. If Mothercare hadn’t already left in 2008, it too would now be vacating after the struggling firm put itself into administration.

We also know that Wigan has to change.

The council’s plans to breathe new life into the Galleries with ideas such as a cinema or bowling alley, housing, office spaces, restaurants and bars and even a hotel are progressing at a painfully slow pace.

And while I’m delighted to see new bars and eateries filling up units on Queen Street and more entertainment-type facilities are afoot at the Pier, we can’t turn every empty unit into a bar or restaurant, even if there is certainly scope for more of the latter as things stand.

Wigan town centre stands at an evolutionary crossroads.

I hope we are being taken in the right direction.