First pictures of Wigan's Galleries shopping centre being torn down by demolition crews

There will be strong and mixed emotions as Wigan people see these exclusive pictures of demolition work at the Galleries shopping centre finally beginning in earnest.

The images, taken by reader, shopkeeper and Wigan Observer columnist Tony Porter, show that major progress is at last being made in preparing for a new £135m development aimed at transforming the fortunes of the town’s flagging centre.

But doubtless they will also invoke feelings of great sadness at seeing such a familiar local landmark and rather impressive buildings being clawed to the ground by diggers, especially as their demise comes less than a third of a century since their construction.

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IN PICTURES: A last look at Wigan's Galleries shopping centre before the demoli...
A digger tears at the familiar red brick surrounds of the Galleries

There will certainly be hopes that the next incarnation – Galleries25, which will see far more leisure, hospitality and accommodation added to the retail mix – will generate far more success and enjoy much greater longevity than its predecessor whose units hadn’t been filled for more than 20 years and whose fortunes had taken further nose-dives after the building of the Grand Arcade, the subsequent recession and the continued decline in high street shopping.

Appointed contractor, BCEGI is carrying out the razing process, starting with the demolition of the carpark bridge.

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Work had been earmarked to begin at the beginning of the year but there have been reassurance since that Galleries25 project remains on schedule to be completed in three years’ time.

A hotel, 464 homes and a multimedia centre with a cinema, 10-lane bowling alley and indoor mini-golf are planned as part of the project – a joint venture partnership between the local authority and developers Cityheart and BCEGI UK.

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A new market hall, shops and office space have also been approved. Traders will stay in their current location until the new market is completed.

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The demolition work is due to take 18 months in total, however, during this time once areas of the site have been demolished, new development phases will commence. The first of these phases is the New Market Hall, which is due to be delivered by 2024.

Over and above BCEGI’s demolition contract, BCEGI has committed to supporting further Social Value objectives with Cityheart and Wigan Council, and its initial statement to help boost the local economy through apprenticeships and job creation.

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Currently 49 per cent of the on-site staff have been recruited from within a 20-mile radius of the scheme and BCEGI is working with a number of local suppliers including contractors and waste removals during this period.

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Planning for the redevelopment of the Galleries shopping centre was granted in November last year and backers say it will provide a much-needed vibrant new retail, leisure, commercial destination in the heart of Wigan town centre.

After last week’s ground-breaking ceremony, Wigan Council leader David Molyneux MBE said: "This an exciting milestone for the Galleries redevelopment and the first of many to come. The redevelopment aims to create as little disruption as possible to the town centre.

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Warren Taylor, director of Cityheart, said: "We are fully committed to delivering this important scheme and continue to work alongside the Council and local community to achieve our vision.

"It is exciting to see the first stage of the transformation taking place, together with the new hoardings that have been erected, it really feels like tangible progress is being made, which serves to reiterate our message that exciting improvements and changes are coming."

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The latest development finally lays to rest rumours that Beijing-backed developer BCEGI had pulled out of the deal, hence the delays.

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Galleries25 hasn’t been universally welcomed with some voicing fears that it will become a white elephant. But most people acknowledge that Wigan town centre, which has lost many retailers in recent years, is in desperate need of reinvigorating with supporters saying that a greater emphasis on hospitality, leisure and accommodation – rather than shops – is the way forward.