Wigan market traders fear for their futures
Through the years, generations of market traders in Wigan have watched the town centre transform as it tries to keep up with the latest trends of the time.
Now they are fearful about their own future as major plans to redevelop The Galleries shopping centre – the home of Wigan Market – progress with pace.
Fewer stalls and no outdoor market means some may not make the move, and for those who do, the cost could be colossal – £100,000 for one food trader.
Fed up of Zoom calls, traders are demanding a face-to-face meeting with developers and council directors to discuss their £130m vision for Wigan town centre.
“They’re not just destroying our livelihood,” one fourth-generation trader said, “they’re destroying the town centre.”
Sold to the private sector for £90m in 1996, Wigan Council bought The Galleries back for less than a tenth of the price three years ago, giving it control and influence over almost a quarter of the town centre’s footprint.
The eight-acre complex, which includes Marketgate and Makinson Arcade, was opened by Princess Diana in 1991 but fell into decline within decades.
Traders say Wigan Market has been busier since the coronavirus crisis but many stores in the shopping centre lie empty as retailers relocated or closed.
The local authority wants to totally redevelop the site, reducing retail space to make way for more food and drink outlets, entertainment venues and housing.
A new 150-room hotel, 464 homes and a multimedia centre with a cinema, ten-lane bowling alley and indoor mini golf are all part of the Galleries 25 project, a joint venture partnership between developers Cityheart and BCEGI.
And a new market hall with traditional stalls, modern retail units, co-working spaces, small offices and a contemporary food hall has also been proposed.
If approved, the market would move to Marketgate, re-opening the original shopping centre entrance just off Standishgate which is currently closed.
Wigan Council claims this is a location that local market traders identified as a suitable option – but some traders dispute this, saying they want to stay put.
Frightened they will be punished for speaking out, several traders are standing together in opposition to the plans, but have refused to be named individually.
“They want this market out the way,” one said. “They want to forget about it.”
“We all want to stay here in a well-maintained building,” another added.
“This isn’t what the people of Wigan want,” they agreed. “They want it cleaner, they want it updating, they want it maintained. And they want free parking.”
Initial designs aim to create a ‘bright, airy and clean’ atmosphere, much like the recently redeveloped market in Warrington, using glass to achieve this effect.
But some traders are sceptical of a ‘gentrified’ market succeeding in Wigan.
“Wigan is an old mining town with working class people,” one said. “They don’t really want to pay £5 for a cup of coffee with a marshmallow on top.”
The local authority says it is ‘likely’ there will be fewer stalls at the new site and a permanent outdoor market is ‘not required’ – but there will be opportunities for outdoor trading at certain times of the year in the new Woodcock Square.
Traders first found out there would be no outdoor market at an online meeting a few weeks ago. They have been told there should be space for them inside.
‘Led to believe’ there would be an outdoor market, as there has been for hundreds of years in the town, one says, ‘they’ve sold us down the river’.
Another trader who runs a food business in the market said she would have to spend around £100,000 on new equipment if she is forced to make the move.
Opposed to the plans, she said she would relocate to the new market if it was the only way to stop her business from folding, leaving 10 staff without work.
But some fear construction work could be enough to kill off the town’s trade.
Traders talk about footfall dropping ‘dramatically’ in the market when Wigan bus station was being rebuilt recently, taking more than a year to complete.
They lost a lot of regular customers who never returned, they recall, and they fear the redevelopment plans for The Galleries will also be costly for trade.
“This place will be like a bomb site when it’s demolished and cleared,” one said.
He predicts this new project will be the ‘next big mistake’ in the town centre, following the ‘failure’ of the Grand Arcade shopping centre built in 2007.
Some retailers relocated to the Grand Arcade when it opened less than 100 yards away, but after a series of closures, the vacancy rate has risen recently.
The new shopping centre is facing further challenges now with the closure of its anchor store Debenhams last week and WHSmith also set to close soon.
“We are thinking we’re just not going to survive,” the outdoor traders says.
In 2018, Wigan Council spoke to more than 6,000 people across the borough as part of the Big Listening Project, receiving more than 10,000 ideas in total. The Galleries 25 project is inspired by these ideas, the council claims, which included calls for a transition in the town centre from being purely commercial to having more leisure opportunities, housing and an evening economy.
Respondents also referenced the need for a more ‘bespoke’ offer, such as an artisan market, independent shops, cafés and restaurants, the council says.
Becca Heron, director of economy and skills at Wigan Council, said local residents, businesses and other interest parties should share their views through a public consultation which will shape the final planning application.
The pre-planning consultation which launched on May 11 follows a series of engagement sessions with staff, retailers and traders over the last 18 months.
She said: “We realise that this project brings a level of uncertainty, particularly after a challenging year, however, we will continue to engage and listen throughout this process in order to support our local businesses.
“We all recognise that doing nothing is not an option if we are to see a sustainable future for Wigan town centre and we want to bring traders and retailers with us on this journey.
“The market is a key component of this exciting new scheme and to reflect that, we’ve prioritised this element to ensure it will be completed as part of the first phase. I’d like to reassure local businesses that there will be ample space for all of those who wish to join the new development and we will work directly with anybody interested to find a suitable location.”
The public consultation, which launched last week, will run until June 1.
Due to current social distancing guidelines, the consultation will be run virtually so residents can view the plans and provide feedback safely.
The plans can be viewed online by visiting www.galleries25.com.
Details of a public webinar session, where the project team will deliver a presentation on the plans and answer questions, will be available online.
Feedback can be submitted through a form on the website, via email to [email protected] or by calling the dedicated community information line on 0333 358 0502 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
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