Local history society urges Wigan Council not to demolish The Galleries

The £135m masterplan to redevelop parts of Wigan town centre has come under fire from custodians of its heritage.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 2:55 pm
Local history and heritage society members say Wigan will lose part of its character if its architecturally "sympathetic" shopping centre is replaced by modern features which don't blend in and will soon be out of date

The blueprint, which would see much of the Galleries demolished and replaced with 464 high-quality homes, a 150-room hotel and a multimedia centre featuring a cinema, event space, indoor mini-golf and a 10-lane bowling alley, would damage Wigan’s character, its market’s chances of survival and the environment, it was claimed today.

In a strongly-worded letter to the town hall, Wigan Local History and Heritage Society says that it would be far better to re-purpose the existing shopping arcade and market buildings which were sympathetically built only 30 years ago to blend in with the surronding townscape.

The letter added this was better than replacing it with premises that would “bear no relation to the character and setting of the adjoining conservation areas.

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Wigan Market traders aren't happy about the Galleries plan either

“They could almost be off-the-shelf designs that will become quickly outdated, tired and dirty looking in no time, and indeed could be of any town in the UK, unlike the Galleries design, which is unique to Wigan.”

The letter was delivered only days after The Friends of Wigan Town Centre, who were formed last summer and believe citizens have not been properly consulted over future investment, handed over a 5,244-signature petition calling for a full council debate on the matter.

A new market hall would also be built alongside a food and drink pavilion, as well as two ground-floor commercial units.

These plans, drawn up by North West developer Cityheart in collaboration with Wigan Council, have come under criticism from councillors and market traders as well.

The letter reads: “The proposed level of demolition is not acceptable to the Society and its members.

“We believe instead that adaptive reuse of some of the existing elements, such as the clock tower, the Galleries walkways, the Market Hall and canopy and the two entrances on Standishgate is a far better solution.

“Selective, much smaller scale demolition to improve connectivity and adaptive reuse of the existing structures is more acceptable, allowing the town centre to evolve.”

“The Galleries was never built as a short-term addition. It is more than capable of adaptation to meet new needs... The design of the residential blocks and hotel do not integrate well with the existing urban fabric.”

The letter goes on that the society is concerned that proposals for a “considerably smaller market” will result in this becoming a market in name only and not a traditional market in its truest sense, which Wigan has enjoyed since the middle of the 13th century.

It points out that Chorley, Altrincham, Bury, Southport and Preston successfully use their markets as an important asset to attract footfall into the town and that “Wigan must do the same”.

And it reminds the council that the Galleries site adjoins two conservation areas (Dicconson and Mesnes) which would be negatively impacted by the redevelopment.

And it says that demolition on such a large scale will contribute to climate change.

While agreeing that the town must diversify in order to survive, developers must not sacrifice Wigan’s “distinctive character” in the process.

It adds: “The Galleries is a shining example of an award-winning, sensitively designed, retail complex of its time.

“No other town can boast anything quite like it. It was designed especially for Wigan, and the Society, along with its members, considers it to be a future heritage asset.

“Just over 30 years later there is no justification to demolish it, instead it can be repurposed, along with other currently empty heritage buildings within the town centre to accommodate all the things the proposals are saying we need in which to regenerate the town.”

It suggests that if there is a need for new buildings then the site of the former town hall at the bottom of King Street and the never-realised “Tower Grand” phase two site of the Grand Arcade at the bottom of Millgate be used instead.

A spokewoman for the council said that it could not comment on the application while it is going through the formal process other than to say all comments received will be considered in line with national and local planning policy.

But on its website there is a frequently asked questions section, one of whose is “why can’t you use the existing building rather than demolish it?”

The answer given there reads as follows:

“At the outset when the Council invited the market to tender for the redevelopment of the Galleries and come up with proposals, they did not specify demolition.

“The general view from all bidders was that it was not possible to convert the whole site, which was difficult to navigate and difficult to convert.

“To be clear, we are not talking about wholesale demolition and there are elements which are to be retained, these include, Makinson Arcade, Marketgate and Woodcock Square, which will be retained and enlarged so it can be used for events.

“No listed buildings will be demolished as part of the development and in line with our Heritage Environment Strategy, we will look to conserve and celebrate key heritage assets across the town centre.

“A wider piece of work called Heritage Action Zone, which will bring unused historical buildings back to life, is under way on King Street and will complement The Galleries project once complete.

“The current layout of the shopping centre does not work, with large spaces vacant and unused.

“Building a new scheme with a flexible and accessible space with improved connectivity across the town centre, will help to attract more visitors.

“In addition, the new development has been designed to be far more environmentally sustainable than the existing centre, with ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic units helping us to save 1,530 tonnes of carbon a year – helping us to contribute towards our ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2038 or sooner.

“Electrical vehicle charging will be provided throughout, and cycle storage units will support our sustainable travel ambitions.”

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