Soft play business ‘still at risk from council centre’

Claire Tinsley, Norman Bradbury and youngsters at Charlie Park
Claire Tinsley, Norman Bradbury and youngsters at Charlie Park

A LONG-running war of words between the owners of a soft play centre and Wigan Council over a leisure centre refit shows no signs of abating.

Furious bosses of Charlie Park in Atherton say the £2.9m redevelopment of Howe Bridge Sports Centre will put jobs at risk and potentially force its business to close as it will offer similar facilities.

Sean Halliwell, who runs the indoor facility at Victoria Mill with business partner Claire Tinsley, also accused the town hall of going back on its word after claiming they had been told the refurbished sports centre would not duplicate services existing elsewhere.

Wigan Council says the service which is now being installed for toddlers and young children will be completely different from anything else in the area.

However, Mr Halliwell is not convinced and says the sports centre will still be a rival offering similar things despite giving them different names.

Sean, 47, said: “The council has said their facility will be for physical and training exercises whereas we call our activities treasure hunts, but it’s the same set-up and principle.

“It just doesn’t make sense. They could have put something different in like splash zones or aerial challenges.

“I’ve mentioned that to them and it’s fallen on deaf ears. It leaves us in a very poor position and I feel they’ve played us along.

“Jobs could end up being lost and it could result in our closure, we just don’t know how it’s going to go.

“Our business is going to be diluted because they’re putting a soft play adventure park at Howe Bridge when there’s ours up the road in Atherton and another one down the road in Leigh.

“These are new businesses and if I had known what was going to happen at Howe Bridge I wouldn’t have done it.”

A campaign to prevent the soft play area being built at Howe Bridge seemed to have resulted in that element of the design being scrapped in December 2014 following a campaign by Norman Bradbury, who was then serving as an independent councillor, and Victoria Mill boss Gordon Tickle.

Reacting to the latest development, Mr Bradbury said: “If I were the Charlie Park owners I would be absolutely livid.

“Entrepreneurs have got a successful business going and are running a popular soft play area and now it is under threat because of the council’s actions.

“Is undermining local initiatives in private enterprise really what a council is supposed to do?”

However, Wigan Council strongly defended its scheme, saying it has altered its plans considerably after meeting with Charlie Park’s owners.