“I wouldn’t recognise one if I walked past them in the street”: People in Leigh on politicians ahead of election day

In the Wigan borough town where a Conservative MP and a Labour-run council lock horns, national politics is thought to be a greater influence on local elections.
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The MP for Leigh, James Grundy, is the first in history to turn the town blue after almost a century of red domination.

However, this win for the Conservatives at the 2019 general election has not translated into local council gains, with the last election seeing them actually lose their leader Michael Winstanley’s seat in Orrell.

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The historic coal mine and factory town broke tradition and voted for Mr Grundy almost four years ago, but now mistrust in the Government sitting in Downing Street could mean trouble for local Tories, residents have said.

An artist's impression of Leigh Market Hall's proposed upgradeAn artist's impression of Leigh Market Hall's proposed upgrade
An artist's impression of Leigh Market Hall's proposed upgrade
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For some, when May 4 comes around and they have to tick a box next to a candidate’s name, they will be asking “who are they?” A lack of presence from local councillors is something that will be a big factor as to whether people vote at all, locals believe.

Darren Fort, who was in town to do his shopping, said he wanted to see more from his representatives. He believes this is what is leading to some looking at the national stage to decide on their vote for local election candidates.

“I plan on voting, but it depends what they say and what they’ll do,” the 56-year-old said. “This has not been well advertised or publicised.

Leigh town centreLeigh town centre
Leigh town centre
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“They need to put more stuff in the paper and on social media to get people more interested. I think people will vote to get rid of people rather than put someone else in.

“I think national politics will influence what goes on locally. Boris Johnson was caught out and his mate Matt Hancock as well.

“This means that trust has gone which could impact the Conservatives in the area – they need to go back and reconstruct.”

Speaking about local issues important to him as a wheelchair user, Darren said: “I think the area needs to be cleaned up a bit, but I guess most areas need cleaning up. We also need more for disabled parking.

Julia Whalley, 74, at her cosmetics stall in Leigh MarketJulia Whalley, 74, at her cosmetics stall in Leigh Market
Julia Whalley, 74, at her cosmetics stall in Leigh Market

“Some towns have people checking for blue badges. I have never seen it done for this town. People can get fined, you never see it done in Leigh or Wigan and see loads of people abusing it.

“I’m not sure if they don’t care or don’t have the funding, I think they should do something about it. If places elsewhere can do it, why not have us doing something similar?”

This feeling that local councillors have gone invisible on the streets was present among a few residents, but one man believed that if you got in contact with them they would be there to help.

Frank Lawless, 85, settled down on a bench in the town centre chowing down on a pasty in a stereotypical Leyther style, said: “I’m going to vote for Labour, I’ve always voted with them, but I’ve had enough [of national politics]. I don’t think any of them are trustworthy.

Darren Fort, 56, shopping in Leigh MarketDarren Fort, 56, shopping in Leigh Market
Darren Fort, 56, shopping in Leigh Market
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“I think the working class are just fodder to them. Some don’t even know the price of a loaf of bread.

“You can go and speak to councillors and they will help you out, I’ve not had a lot to do with them personally. However, if I walked past them in the street I wouldn’t recognise them.”

A number of residents were asking to see their councillors out in the wards rather than in the council chamber at Wigan Town Hall. The call was simple for many in Leigh town centre – fight for local issues and you can count on their vote.

One big issue brought up time and time again was the state of the town centre. Despite having millions invested across the town over the last two decades with Leigh Sports Village, The Loom retail park and the Leigh Guided Busway all being created – the centre has gone fairly untouched.

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There was a plan to change all that when the council made a bid for Levelling Up funding. Their idea to spruce up the town’s Civic Square and walkways with nature trails failed in its quest for £11.4m from the Government.

Additionally, proposals included shop front improvements to replace “tired areas” of the town and an overhaul of Leigh’s market hall. However, MP James Grundy disagreed that Leigh only needed £11.4m and was wanting the council to ask for the whole £20m available.

Although Wigan Council bosses expressed their disappointment in the MP’s lack of support for the bid and blamed him for its failure, Mr Grundy admitted that he did not support the council’s plan for Leigh, describing it as “inadequate”.

He has called for the next round of bidding for the Levelling Up Fund to be at least the full basic £20m available from the Government. Any sort of funding to improve the town centre and its market will be welcomed, as locals have been crying out for investment.

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One market trader, who has been involved for 50 years and counting, said that something needs to be done in order to bring more diversity to the centre. Julia Whalley, who runs Julie’s Cosmetics, said that improving the market hall can help bring that personal and range of businesses that the town centre is currently lacking.

“We don’t know anything about the market being done at the moment,” the 74-year-old said. “We’ve heard nothing from the council.

“We want to fill this with traders, that’s the main aim for us. There are no jewellery or beddings stalls to come to anymore to name just a few missing businesses.

“We’ve got barbers, cafes and charity shops really, even all the banks are going now. We give personal service here in the market, that is what people want back.

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“If you go into a supermarket you’re lucky to get any sort of personal service. But that is all we have for shopping diversity.

“What are we voting for though, we don’t always know what their intentions are when they get in. I live in Pennington and it’s things closer to home that get people interested.

“I agree the shops need redoing and there needs to be an improvement on aesthetics for the town centre to get footfall back. We want more from our councillors and I think issues close to people will go out and actually vote for them.”

The message was loud and clear from the marketeers, the town centre funding that could ‘rejuvenate’ the market would be openly welcomed – so the pressure is now on for councillors to deliver it.

The local election polls will open at 7am on Thursday, May 4 and close at 10pm with the results coming the following day.