Council rebukes rumours £130m Galleries project in Wigan town centre could ‘be left as wasteland’

The £130m redevelopment of Wigan town centre is in no danger of slowing down, after the council rebuked claims the site could be left as rubble.

Work is under way on The Galleries project, which will have a hotel, 464 homes and a multimedia centre with a cinema, bowling alley and indoor mini golf, as well as new market hall with stalls, shops and offices.

The former Galleries shopping centre is currently being demolished in the project’s first phase.

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But concerned residents submitted a Freedom of Information request to Wigan Council after being unable to find out where new sources of funding were coming from for the creation of the central hub.

A response from the council said that “until prices are agreed and contracts awarded, the amount of the various funding sources cannot be quantified”.

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The Friends of Wigan Town Centre group are worried this meant the redevelopment would not go ahead.

The council said the site would not be left as “wasteland” – as one rumour had suggested – and confirmed money has been set aside for the project and that contractual agreements not being officially awarded yet is “not unusual”.

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However, a spokesman for the Friends groups said they feared that due to spiralling costs, the town centre could still be “heading towards a position like Stoke with a demolition wasteland in the centre of town”.

“Officers and members have misled citizens by showing them unfunded plans, leading them to believe that is what they are going to get, when really the plan is to turn the town centre into a housing estate to generate council tax income,” they claimed.

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“Soaring inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain and demand issues. Plus, the increasing national government’s concern about Chinese investment in the UK.

“All of these factors will potentially make it more difficult to attract investors into a market town. If the Galleries site is demolished before any firm financial backing is in place, potentially there will be a huge vacant plot in the town centre which may detract other investors in the rest of the town, Grand Arcade and Standishgate.”

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The council said that prices in the construction industry have increased, with material costs soaring.

Nevertheless, they remain committed to delivering the hub.

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Aidan Thatcher, the council’s director of growth and economy, said: “In 2021 we were successful in securing £16m through the Future High Streets Fund which will support the redevelopment of the Galleries. In addition to this, funding has been earmarked through our capital programme and private sources. Furthermore, in June 2021 the council signed a long-term strategic development agreement with Cityheart, who are the appointed delivery partner for all phases of the scheme – demonstrating our commitment to delivering the scheme.

“Works are already under way on site to deliver the first phases of this exciting, multi-phase mixed-use redevelopment for the benefit of Wigan, our businesses and our residents. Phasing contract and financial agreements like this is not unusual and I can assure residents that as a key priority for Wigan Council we are committed to delivering the Galleries redevelopment as efficiently and effectively as possible to safeguard our town’s future.”