Police reveal efforts to stop car meets with fake signs, burger vans and deck chairs on 'Wigan's very own Fast and Furious race track'
It is three years since the ribbon was cut to officially open the A49 link road, which was created to improve access from Wigan town centre to the M6, via Goose Green.
The wide road diverts drivers away from residential areas along Poolstock Lane – but it has become a real problem for people living in the area and police officers.
Westwood Way is popular among people wishing to hold car meets, with hundreds of enthusiasts travelling from miles around to show off their vehicles and race along the road.
Residents are faced with disruption and noise from the meets, while police are working hard to stop them.
Insp Abby Astle, neighbourhood inspector for Wigan, said: “We have had fake ‘road closed’ signs, burger vans, people with desk chairs sitting on the side of the road watching people race their vehicles at ridiculous speeds.
"The traffic department did some speed monitoring and there is a section of 30mph and a section of 40mph. The amount of people doing more than double that is ridiculous. It’s obviously a big problem.
"It was designed about 15 years ago I believe and at that time car meets weren’t an issue. It’s a lovely road to drive along and a nice calm road until these people turn up.”
The car meets can be held at any time, with nights, weekends and bank holidays proving to be particularly popular.
They are usually advertised on social media, so police search for details of upcoming events.
They contact the organisers telling them not to come, issue dispersal orders to keep people away and go along on the day to make sure the event does not go ahead.
It is not just on Westwood Way where meets have been planned, with dispersal orders also used at Tesco in Hindley, Parsonage Retail Park in Leigh and at other locations in the borough.
Insp Astle said: "Unless it’s advertised on social media, we can’t predict what day or what time. But it is more difficult if they come in the evening when we have fewer people on duty.
"When they turn up and start, if we don’t turn up straight away and prevent it, that’s when the difficulty comes.”
While Insp Astle says people complain about police tackling this problem, suggesting they focus on crimes like rape instead, she insists it is “not one or the other”.
Racing cars along the wide open road may not seem like a risk to those taking part, but police are concerned about the dangers it can pose.
People have been caught driving dangerously at car meets, at high speeds, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in vehicles with unsafe modifications, without a licence or insurance, or with weapons or drugs.
Insp Astle said: “We have a police officer whose foot was run over on Westwood Way in January. He had a fractured foot.
"It’s dangerous, not just to the people racing but to members of the public.”
In 2007 cars were drag racing on Stadium Way when a driver lost control and multiple people were injured.
And 19-year-old Sophie Smith was killed when she was hit by a car during a cruise at Trafford Park in 2018, with several other people injured.
Police are using a range of tactics to stop these events, including erecting ‘no parking’ signs and cameras on Westwood Way and closing the road before a meet can begin.
Regular patrols are carried out as part of Operation Bluefin, which is tackling anti-social behaviour around the borough.
Officers have powers to give a “yellow card” to drivers, which flags them up on the police national computer if they are caught driving anti-socially again within 12 months anywhere in the country and their vehicle can be seized.
One thing being considered by the police is a Public Spaces Protection Order, which can be imposed to stop anti-social behaviour.
Police and councils in Stockport and Trafford have worked together to introduce them and it is something that could be used in Wigan.
Chief Insp Michael Parker, from Greater Manchester Police’s road policing unit, said: “There is a consultation process. The neighbourhood teams will link in with local authorities and if they feel they can justify it, Westwood Way could be subject to a Public Spaces Protection Order for three years, which will ban anti-social driving on the roads.”
The car meets can take up a lot of police resources and sometimes hundreds – even thousands – of enthusiasts can attend.
Ch Insp Parker said: "We had a large-scale car meet where 2,500 cars turned up last summer at the AJ Bell in Salford and that was horrendous. There were lots of arrests for anti-social behaviour. Quite concerningly, there were drug and drink-driving arrests too.”
Tackling the problems with Westwood Way is a priority for police in Wigan and it is not just at the meets that issues occur, as people also speed along the road at other times.
Officers use speed guns to monitor how fast vehicles are travelling and provide education to drivers, along with taking enforcement action when needed.
While the police do not want car meets on Westwood Way, they insist they are not killjoys and are helping to put on organised events.
One meet organiser holds static events, where people look at cars but do not drive them, and police are negotiating with the council to find a safe place for these.
Insp Astle said: “We are not stopping people having fun and we are working with people to engage with places where they want to use vehicles, because a public road is not the place to be racing your vehicles.
"In Wigan we have Three Sisters race track. If you want to race, go there. Don’t put yourself and the public at risk.”