‘Somebody could have been killed’

Wigan Life Centre
Wigan Life Centre

An eye-witness has told how only the quick-thinking actions of staff prevented a tragedy when a glass panel fell 20ft from the top of Wigan’s landmark Life Centre building.

The pane shattered and plunged close to a seating area where moments earlier members of the public had stood.

Questions are now being asked about whether the services hub in Believe Square should still be open while safety checks take place. Former mayor and council opposition leader Michael Winstanley said today he would write to town hall chief executive Donna Hall expressing his concerns about the building’s safety record.

Council bosses have cordoned off the entrance area, with visitors asked to use an alternative entrance. The concerned onlooker has also urged the council to take serious action as it is the second incident of its kind since 2014. The Health and Safety Executive told the Post yesterday no investigation was under way and that they not received any reports from Wigan Council.

The Life Centre visitor, who asked not to be named, said the falling glass could have caused a fatal accident had it not been for the quick-thinking actions of staff.

He told the Evening Post the panel, which was on the highest row of the outer structure, cracked moments before it fell, giving workers a crucial few seconds to move people away from the drop-zone.

But the structural defect, which did not result in any injuries, has prompted safety concerns as it is not an isolated incident after a similar incident two years ago.

It is unclear how long the main entrance will remain closed to the public.

The onlooker said: “I must commend the staff who acted quickly and professionally, if it wasn’t for them there could have been a death, they have probably saved a life.

“The panel fell mostly intact, I had a very clear view. It’s falling about 20ft, if someone had been underneath it would have killed them.

“At first I thought it was vandals at ground-level and I was looking up at the panel when it fell.”

The council has moved to reassure residents the building is undergoing safety checks with the section near to the glass frontage sealed off.

However, former mayor Coun Mike Winstanley said he would raise concerns about the buildings safety with town hall chiefs.

“I will be writing to the chief executive to make sure steps are taken to ensure the safety of the public and members of staff,” he added.

Penny McGinty, assistant director for leisure, property and resources, told the Evening Post: “The Life Centre has re-opened and services are operating as normal.

“However, customers can only enter the building via the Hewlett Street entrance while scaffolding is being erected at the main entrance. We have spoken to the contractor investigating the cause and will put measures in place to prevent this from happening again.”

The Life Centre’s main entrance remained closed on Wednesday after the incident on Tuesday afternoon.

Adding to the safety fears is the fact this is not the first time a glass panel has fallen, with a previous incident in 2014, also in the summer months. This has led to speculation that the recent hot weather and subsequent changes in temperature could have forced the glass out of the frame.

Given that the one-stop hub is home to many council services, a complete re-fit of the glass fronted facade of the award-winning building, and the disruption it would cause, could be a costly affair.

The eye-witness added: “It’s a beautiful place to sit, beautifully designed but we’re talking about a very large and heavy piece of glass. This needs to be taken very seriously even if to put it right comes to millions. The rest of the building is safe, it wouldn’t stop me going back in to use the library.

“But if they don’t stop people going into that particular area they will be making a terrible mistake. This isn’t something that should be swept under the carpet.”