New Galleries scheme including cinema, housing, office spaces, restaurants, bars and a hotel unveiled
Wigan Council has unveiled its ideas for a far-reaching transformation of a town centre shopping hub as its renovation plans reach a crucial milestone.
The local authority is now actively seeking a private sector development partner to work with it on what could be a complete redevelopment of The Galleries.
The council bought the ailing shopping centre last year due to the declining fortunes of retail and the high street and has now given residents a vision of what the facility’s future could look like.
And it is certainly extremely different to what is there now, with flats and apartments, restaurants and bars, an upmarket cinema, bowling alley, office space aimed primarily at start-ups and workers in modern high-tech industries and even a hotel among the ideas potentially on the drawing board.
Some of the town centre’s most popular and attractive shopping arcades will also be retained and it is hoped there will be a new market hall in the final design somewhere.
The announcement of the search for a development partner quashes any idea the local authority might have been looking to sell The Galleries.
The town hall stressed the project is still at an early stage, with none of the discussion points set in concrete and all subject to lengthy conversations once a strategic partner comes on board, which will in itself take several months.
However, Wigan Council’s director of economy and skills Becca Heron says that whatever ends up inside The Galleries it is impossible for the centre to remain as it is now.
Ms Heron said: “Wigan town centre faces similar challenges to a number of others. We’ve got an over-supply of retail space and shopping habits have changed.
“People need new reasons to come into the town centre. We never bought The Galleries to run it as a retail asset. We bought it back for the purposes of redevelopment.
“We’re looking for a partner who will share our long-term vision and we want to bring in a number of different uses.”
The procurement notice for a partner is now out, although the council says it has already done a bit of work testing the water with its ideas and had positive responses from the regeneration sector.
The town hall stressed, though, the process is not going to be short, with the final choice of development organisation not expected to be known for around eight months.
More discussions will then have to take place before any plans begin to take a final shape and some of the ideas being considered will also need planning permission as it will involve changes of use to The Galleries as well as extensive rebuilding and renovation work.
That means the final development agreements are likely to be finalised only in 2021.
However, the idea of having more people living in Wigan town centre is one that is definitely towards the centre of the thinking on regenerating The Galleries.
Ms Heron said: “There’s a growing demand for people to live in town centres. Manchester and also Liverpool are becoming increasingly unaffordable and people are very conscious of sustainability in terms of where they live.
“Wigan town centre is an ideal location for people to work in the borough or commute to other areas.
“We need to diversify town centres and we think residential use is a key part of it.”
The council is also keen to make The Galleries a leisure destination, citing the creation of the escape rooms there recently as a good example of what they would want to encourage.
Other ideas which are being considered include a non-multiplex cinema with a smaller number of screens and a higher-level food and drink offer.
Places to get a meal or a few drinks in the evening are also an important part of the thinking for The Galleries.
Working there during the day is also being considered, with ideas for hotdesking areas which might be particularly attractive to younger workers in the digital or creative industries which the council hopes will increasingly sit alongside traditional industries such as manufacturing, engineering, construction and logistics in the borough’s economy.
The council has even suggested that a hotel in part of the building might be commercially viable.
Ms Heron stressed, though, that with the high street continuing to face massive issues a combination of all these things would probably be needed to ensure all the new arrivals in the shopping centre thrive.
She said; “The holistic approach we are taking to regeneration is so important. For enterprises like restaurants to succeed footfall needs to be increased.
“That means more people living in the town centre and working in the town centre. We need people coming in to use the leisure facilities. Then we would have a bigger draw to support a food and drink offer.”
That approach, Ms Heron says, means The Galleries cannot be redeveloped in splendid isolation, with the plans needing to complement the work being done at Wigan Pier and the £2m facelift planned for King Street through a Heritage Action Zone to bring key listed buildings back into use.
The council is also still planning for HS2’s arrival in Wigan, despite the transport project being bogged down in controversy, and is looking at funding to make the area around the station more attractive to arrivals on the train.
However, the root-and-branches changes potentially under consideration does not mean everything that is currently in The Galleries will simply be swept away.
Liaison groups have already been set up for both the market traders, who could find themselves operating from a different location, and the retail businesses currently there.
Council officers announced the procurement process to them and what it might mean for their businesses on Monday.
Ms Heron said: “There will continue to be a retail core in The Galleries. We want to consolidate the retail offer at the front and along Standishgate.
“We’ve got Makinson Arcade, which is a real asset and a jewel in Wigan’s retail offer.
“At the moment, the market is towards the rear of The Galleries and we’re looking at a more central location for it. We’re really thinking about what a new, modern market hall should look like and what services it requires.”
The council has also given its ongoing support to The Fire Within, the project accompanying the five-year cultural manifesto which means six units on the upper floor are currently home to a headquarters hosting art and community events and a number of exhibitions.
Residents will also be given the chance to have their say on what they would like to see in The Galleries, with a number of consultation events planned.
In cash-strapped times the council admits it will not be able to fund all the work itself, meaning it is having to look to work with a private sector company.
However, it says it will be looking for public sector funding sources as well as using private cash and stresses the redevelopment is partly about increasing council tax and business rate bases as these become increasingly important sources of money for local government.
Leader of Wigan Council, Coun David Molyneux, said: “This move marks a real signal of our intent to drive forward the regeneration of Wigan town centre.
“Improvements to our town centres have been highlighted as a key ambition for residents. Our team is working hard to deliver on this, which is crucial for our plans to secure a prosperous economic future for our borough.”