Wigan residents' group calls for Galleries plan rethink

A residents’ group which is concerned about a major scheme to redevelop Wigan town centre has penned a letter to civic leaders and the borough’s top politicians.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 3:28 pm
An artist’s impression of the Galleries revamp

The Friends of Wigan Town Centre have sent their objections to the £130m scheme to transform The Galleries to the borough’s ruling Labour Cabinet as well as town hall chief executive Alison McKenzie-Folan.

The group says it is well aware of the need for changes in the fortunes of Wigan town centre and stresses it is not against redevelopment.

But it is urging the current scheme developed by the local authority with its partner Cityheart to demolish parts of The Galleries and create hundreds of new homes, a hotel, leisure facilities and entertainment venues is halted for a major rethink.

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The group’s email raises serious objections to the consultation processes for the redevelopment scheme and has accused the council of breaching its own statements and commitments on involving the borough’s residents and having their voices heard.

It says the scheme has been created in a top-down manner which does not tally with the local authority’s commitments to involving the community and the planning portal is not allowing enough people to have a say on the application.

The group also says the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly changed people’s lives and outlook and new consultations need to be held in order to reflect this when designing the future of the town centre.

Wigan Council has strongly defended the development against criticism since it was unveiled and said it is in the process of formally responding to the group.

The letter said: “We are writing to request that the plans for development are halted in order to enable a rethink. We, like you, are absolutely in support of the development of our town centre.

“These plans were developed before the pandemic. Life has changed, people’s choices have changed,

“To push forward on a plan that does not have the support of the people of Wigan is both foolish and unconstitutional.

“We have already collected a whole range of brilliant ideas from the skilled, thoughtful residents of Wigan.

“We ask that you afford us a good listening to and halt the development in order to do so.”

The letter criticises the council’s consultations before the scheme was unveiled, claiming it does not meet the town hall’s own community involvement standard, and also said the Big Listening Project should be discarded due to its poor quality.

The letter said: “Hosting a small number of workshops in the town centre is neither ‘extensive’ consultation nor sufficient to inform the proposed plans. There was no attempt to reach groups that rarely have a voice and the focus was completely on current day time town centre users.

“There is also an over reliance on the Big Listening Project to rubber stamp the plans. Whilst this project sought to use open ended questions for real dialogue and enabled the collection of themes such as our hopes for town centres, it lacks rigour.

“There was no follow up to develop themes and develop a deeper understanding. In fact the outcomes of the Big Listening Project were never shared with residents to sense check, a good practice consultation safeguard.

“Given the number of people we’ve chatted with around the town centre and within the group who did not know of the plans; thought it was a repurpose rather than a demolition; and, are totally against the level of housing in this style, we feel able to state that pre-consultation has not been fit for purpose.”

The group says it has been out and about collecting opinions in the town centre and also gauging opinion on social media and there has been particular concern about the size, style and number of blocks of flats being proposed.

Wigan Council and Cityheart’s consultation has also been slammed, with the group saying it questioned far too few people and has overinflated support for the development by allowing people to say they partly agreed with the scheme but omitting an option to partially disagree.

Campaigners say the consultation took place during lockdown and fear it was rushed through rather than holding workshops and public events now that restrictions have eased.

The letter is equally critical of the planning portal, which it has described as “unfit for purpose” as people are finding it too difficult to submit comments.

It is also demanding that upgrading customer complaints processes is given greater urgency by the town hall after it has been highlighted in audit reports.

The residents also said it is unhappy that a recent full council meeting was told legislation meant the scheme could not be deliberated in the chamber by all elected representatives.

The group accused the council of failing to live up to its commitments as a member of the New Local to community power and said an advisory panel should be set up to put Wigan residents’ voices at the centre of development.

The letter says: “Just because it’s the biggest regeneration scheme the council has been involved in, doesn’t mean it’s right for our town. Please do not let ego speak louder than the heart.”

A spokesperson for Wigan Council said: “We have received a complaint and will respond to the complainant directly on the points raised.”

The council has offered robust defences of its consultation and preparation processes for the redevelopment of The Galleries.

It has said the town centre needs to change to turn its fortunes around and residents have told it that they want to see more things to do, more support for the night-time economy and independent businesses.

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