Wigan Council defends appointment of Chinese state-owned firm for town centre plans

The controversial scheme for the redevelopment of The Galleries came under fire from a prominent opposition politician at the full council meeting this week.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 3:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 3:32 pm
How part of the redevelopment of The Galleries could look

BCEGI UK, the British branch of a company which is ultimately controlled by the Chinese government, has been handed the Galleries 25 project contract.

However, the plans to knock down a shopping centre and market to make way for housing, a hotel and a new multimedia centre have not yet been approved.

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The Conservative councillor also criticised the content of the proposal itself.

He said: “I think this is a deeply flawed plan.

“This scheme is designed as a city centre. Wigan is not a city centre. It’s a town centre. It simply won’t work. It’s the worst possible thing for our town centre.

“If this project goes ahead as it stands, it will destroy our town centre.”

A progress report on the project was presented to Wigan council’s cabinet earlier this month, but the document was discussed in private because the report was restricted, preventing members of the public from reading it.

Coun Winstanley criticised the way the council has handled the Galleries redevelopment project, saying it has been "clouded in secrecy from day one".

And he called for the local authority to "open up the process to scrutiny".

Labour councillor Paul Prescott, who is the portfolio holder for planning, environmental services and transport at Wigan council, explained why the contract was approved by the cabinet and not debated at a public meeting.

He said: “Lawfully, only cabinet can make a decision required in the Galleries project. To pass the decision to council for a debate this evening would not be in line with legislation.

"Therefore, to discuss the matter further would have no purpose.”

The cabinet member described the Galleries 25 project as the "biggest transformational regeneration scheme the council has been involved in".

He reminded councillors that other local authorities, including Conservative-controlled Bolton council, are also working in partnership with BCEGI UK.

The UK registered company pays tax and reinvests profits within the UK.

The Labour councillor confirmed that the company does not have any subsidiaries in Xinjiang – where parliament has declared a genocide of the Uyghurs is taking place – and its construction practices, employee welfare, along with their systems, policies and procedures, "stand up to scrutiny".

Later in the meeting, councillors were asked to consider a motion calling for the council’s core strategy to reviewed and adapted to the post-Covid world.

Atherton councillor Stuart Gerrard who proposed the motion suggested the strategy is "out of date’" and described the document as too "Wigan-centric".

But deputy leader Coun Keith Cunliffe referred the motion to be considered by the cabinet, preventing a debate from taking place at the public council meeting.

He said: “I refer it to cabinet to consider with the intention that it returns to a future council meeting for us to discuss all these things.

“It may well include not just the core strategy but the whole recovery plan.”

The application for the town centre plans can be viewed on the dedicated consultation website www.galleries25.com or on the council’s planning portal.

The planning application reference is A/21/91796/MAJES

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