Plans for Wigan town centre redevelopment could sound 'death knell', critics fear
Concerns have been raised about the future for traders under a scheme replacing retail space with housing, hospitality and a hotel.
Details of the £135m plan for The Galleries shopping centre, which make up almost a quarter of the town centre’s footprint, were put forward last week.
The proposal includes demolishing some of the shopping centre to make way for up to 464 ‘high-quality’ homes, a 150-room hotel and a multimedia centre featuring a cinema, event space, indoor mini golf and a ten-lane bowling alley.
Conservative group leader Michael Winstanley criticised the local authority’s approach towards redeveloping the town centre, saying it is ‘too little, too late’.
Wigan council purchased the shopping centre in 2018 for £8m, promising to transform the town centre and reduce retail space, adapting to market trends.
But the Tory leader said he is ‘extremely worried’ by the plan which ‘totally underwhelmed’ him and will ‘sound the death knell’ for traders in the town.
He questioned how another cinema and bowling alley would transform the town, saying it replicates what is already available in and around Robin Park.
The Orrell councillor said the proposal ‘doesn’t do anything’ for other towns in the rest of the borough which are desperate for investment and regeneration.
And he claimed the town’s redevelopment, which could start in January and is expected to be finished in five years, would be ‘out of date’ before it is done.
He said: “We should be planning ahead and thinking of what people are going to want then.
“The council is basically offering what other towns were doing three to four years ago.”
Coun Winstanley also raised concerns that Wigan will ‘become a building site’ for the next five years while much of the town centre is under construction.
Some market traders share these concerns, saying they will require financial support from the council to survive until the redevelopment work is complete.
The current market would remain open until the new market hall, one of the first parts of the project which is hoped to be completed by 2024, is ready.
However, traders have been told it is ‘likely’ that there will be fewer traditional stalls within the new market which would feature a ‘contemporary’ food hall.
Atherton councillor Stuart Gerrard, leader of the Independent Network, also criticised the plan to rebuild the market for the second time in living memory.
He said: “I can see no justification again for this colossal amount of taxpayers’ money to be spent on a white elephant.
“The current building needed investment and remodelling to cater for the proposed plans and boost trade for Wigan’s day and night time economy.
“That could have been done for a fraction of the cost.”
Concerns have also been raised about the companies involved in the scheme.
The UK branch of BCEGI, a Chinese-state owned company, will lead on the construction programme for the scheme, which could start in early 2022.
But China’s human rights record has been highlighted by those who have questioned why the company has been chosen as the main contractor.
Wigan council says it is bound by strict rules when appointing partners and the two firms were chosen follow a ‘robust’ and ‘regulated’ procurement process.
Council leader David Molyneux said the proposals for the town centre have been developed in consultation with residents, visitors and local businesses.
He said: “Extensive market testing and consultation has taken place to design a scheme that supports the long-term economic ambitions of the town and wider borough.
“We have been clear that doing nothing simply isn’t an option and that we need to create new uses for the town centre to encourage footfall.
“This is a trend seen nationally and one that has only been accelerated following the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have worked with our developers to reassess the proposals in light of the pandemic and firmly believe that this scheme responds to the needs of the current and future climate.
“We will continue to work closely with local businesses during the construction to minimise disruption.
“We are also committed to bringing the public with us on this journey and will continue to keep local people informed as this scheme progresses.
“The application has now been submitted and will go through a statutory process in line with national and local planning policy.
“We hope to receive a determination in the autumn. In the meantime, the public are invited to submit their comments for consideration.”
The plans can be viewed on the dedicated consultation website www.galleries25.com or on Wigan council’s planning portal.
The planning application reference is A/21/91796/MAJES.
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