Ambitious plans to bring Wigan borough's town centres back to life
Pulling those people back is at the heart of Wigan Council’s plan to regenerate its town centres.
The confident places scrutiny committee met in the town hall to hear plans to bring Wigan, Leigh and Ashton back to life through events, projects and new assets.
Creating “vibrant town centres” is one of the 10 council’s priorities by 2030 – to “create attractive and well-supported town centres with something for everyone”.
There is a recognition that each of the town centres is different and it is important to keep local identities.
Releasing unused council assets, securing funding and establishing joined-up visions is how the council wants to make a difference.
Although the focus currently resides with the three largest towns in the area, the others will be next on the list, Melanie Lamb, service manager for regeneration, said.
The borough’s namesake town has seen the most recent influx of projects.
Already under way is the £135m redevelopment of The Galleries, which comprises a cinema, bowling alley, indoor mini golf, climbing wall and other indoor leisure activities.
Plans for the multimedia centre were given the green light at the beginning of March and there is hope the new market hall – the first section to be built – could be completed by late 2024.
Wigan Pier, once a bustling scene for nightlife, has become derelict, but work to turn it into a wedding venue, gin distillery, microbrewery and food hall with eight townhouses is under way.
Just down the road is Eckersley Mill, formerly the heart of the spinning industry in the town centre, which will soon feature a series of stalls and a bar on the ground floor, with an outdoor terrace that can host 350 people.
In 2020, the council secured £1.27m from Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone for King Street, which has enabled work to make the fabric of the Royal Court Theatre weatherproof.
Safety marshals brought in to monitor behaviour on King Street on Friday and Saturday nights were part of the Purple Flag status accreditation awarded last year.
At the meeting, Coun Lawrence Hunt said he no longer has the worry of “getting your head kicked in” when he goes to the centre.
The southern part of the borough has its own identity and there have been plans to give Bradshawgate the kiss of life.
Although huge funding pots have seen change in the area, with a guided busway and Leigh Sports Village now in full flight, the centre has not received the same love.
An £11.4m bid for Levelling Up funding was sought to spruce up the Civic Square and walkways with nature trails and social hubs.
The project included plans for shop-front improvements to replace “tired areas” and an overhaul of the market hall.
Both leader and deputy leader of the council Coun Dave Molyneux and Coun Keith Cunliffe expressed their disappointment at failing to secure the cash in January.
However, Coun Molyneux stated he would prepare a bid for Leigh in the next round of Levelling Up funding.
This is a point of controversy, as Leigh’s MP James Grundy did not give his approval to the plan submitted by the Labour-controlled council.
The Conservative MP stated the plans were “inadequate” and called for the next round of bidding to be at least the full £20m available.
After also being hit with disappointment in January over its Levelling Up bid, Ashton received a boost in the spring budget to the value of £6.6m.
The #OurFutureAshton plan includes improved shop-fronts, upgraded streets and public spaces, new walking and cycling routes and a refresh for the market square.
Additionally, the plan includes greenery and lights along Garswood Street and Gerard Street, and infrastructure upgrades to Old Road and Wigan Road.
Wigan’s smaller towns
Although Atherton, Tyldesley and Standish were mentioned by the scrutiny committee, they are currently not at the centre of regeneration plans.
However, that does not mean they will be overlooked for funding opportunities, the committee was told.
An example provided was Tyldesley CIC’s successful bid for £1.35m from Historic England for physical projects and cultural activities.
A shop-front scheme has transformed shopfronts and vacant buildings .
Coun Barry Taylor said: “I’ve seen what a bit of money can do to the town of Tyldesley. The change it has made to the town is unbelievable.”
Debate around access and transport
Although the overall plan was accepted by councillors, Coun George Davies questioned whether there was enough parking to cope with people being lured into Wigan town centre. He was told the capacity of car parking currently is at 50 per cent.
David Proctor, assistant director for planning and regeneration, said: “There is an element of car parking management, but whilst we want lots of people and footfall, we don’t want to insist they come by car.
“We want to make it as easy for people to walk in, come by bike or public transport.”
Coun Phylis Cullen said: “I understand about emissions, but unless you have reliable public transport in place you will never get people out of their cars.”
The Bee Network – Greater Manchester’s developing transport vision – was referenced as key to getting bus services under control.
With Wigan in the first wave of franchising in September, Mr Proctor explained it was a big step towards getting fare prices, timetables and reliability under the control of the local authority.