The infamous £220m Wigan link road "that can solve’" notorious traffic problems
The borough has the benefit of sitting between two of the largest roads in the North West, the M61 and the M6, yet it is no easy task to get between the towns within, which are not on the M60.
Back in October, at a Confident Places Scrutiny Committee in Wigan Town Hall, the committee chair explained how at peak times, driving from Leigh to Wigan, just a seven-mile journey, can take over half an hour.
Meanwhile a lack of interconnecting train or tram routes in the borough, the car or bus is the only viable option for Wiganers.
However a proposed link road, approximately nine miles in length, would link junction 5 of M61 with junction 26 of the M6 and bring connectivity between Leigh, Hindley, Wigan, Ince, and Pemberton. It’s a dream almost 80 years old – with a route first identified shortly after World War Two.
Wigan Council believes that a long road cutting through the heart of the borough can help improve the well-known traffic problems and deliver more housing for residents. But there’s a long way to go.
Currently, Wigan is working with Bolton Council, whose patch this road would also run through, to make this long-fantasized route a reality, with the section on the border of the boroughs envisaged as an “investment zone for driving innovation, sparking new employment opportunities and creating new spaces”.
The councils worked together on a £132m, 2019 funding bid for the road, with the idea it would provide new opportunities to level up the north of Greater Manchester by “unlocking” 183,096m sq of employment space, as well as delivering 12,960 new homes across both boroughs.
But the bid was knocked back by the Government, so the future plan for the whole link road will be determined by separate pots of money for each of the 12 sections of road, each a link in itself.
Housing and business development will play a major factor in each case, as many sections have houses or a rebuilding project connected that would provide cash from Section 106 agreements in which developers contribute to funding local infrastructure.
With overpopulated roads and problem junctions often cited as objections to development in Wigan, a link road between the M6 and M61 motorways promises to increase connectivity and stimulate the local economy, bringing more of the benefits of Greater Manchester’s boom to this part of the region.
One part of the link road, the A49, is already up and running – so now motorists can travel along the 2.3km route of dual carriageway from Warrington Road at Goose Green to Westwood Park, north of Pearson’s Flash. Not far behind is the Pemberton link road, which will physically connect the A49 to the M6 motorway.
This, in the short term, hopes to alleviate traffic on Ormskirk Road – one of the busiest stretches in the borough. This section was unlocked thanks to money released by Peel L&P who are currently building a housing development on the old Pemberton Colliery site off Smithy Brook Road, under a Section 106 arrangement.
Developments like that are key to funding such an expensive project – not least with nine out of 12 sections still in the planning stage.
David Proctor, Wigan’s assistant director for planning and regeneration, said: “Delivering improved road connections between Wigan and Bolton is a long-standing priority for Wigan Council.
“A joined up east-west road network in Wigan borough, linking the M6 and the M61, will bring a range of benefits to residents, from reducing journey times and supporting businesses to boosting economic growth. Crucially it will help unlock brownfield housing sites and deliver much needed new homes in the borough.
“While our joint bid with Bolton Council to the government’s Housing Infrastructure Forward Fund was unsuccessful, we are continuing with our commitment to deliver these improvements, including working with partners to unlock further funding opportunities.”
Adding to this, a Bolton Council spokesman simply stated: “The link road remains a long-term ambition for Bolton Council and we continue to work closely with our partners to deliver the infrastructure”.
Where each section of the M6/M61 link road is up to:
A49 link road: Complete and open to traffic
Construction took place between September 2018 and Spring 2020. The idea behind this section was to create a new dual carriageway gateway between the M6 and Wigan town centre, addressing congestion and air quality issues on current routes. The council also stated that it will also complement and support other components of Wigan’s transport strategy such as the new M58 link road.
M58 link road: Planning approval granted
This plan aims to alleviate traffic on Ormskirk Road (A577) which is one of Wigan borough’s busiest routes, promoting east to west connectivity and improving air quality. The new road is an extension of the existing Leopold Street, connecting junction 26 of the M6/M58 to the A49 Link Road.
The council hopes the road will provide a route from the motorway into the heart of Wigan town centre. Following planning approval in 2018 and 2021, the scheme is currently being refined through detailed design before construction begins.
Pemberton Link Road: Currently under construction
Following the 268-home development approval of Peel L&P’s subsidiary Northstone, building work has commenced. A big boost for this was a large pot of money, £4m, from Peel towards the new road between Foundry Lane and the Smithy Brook Road Roundabout.
This will form part of the M58 link road connecting the M58 to the A49, running past Pemberton Railway Station. Building work is ongoing at the site.
Phoenix Way/Seaman Way link: At the planning stage, no approval yet
This section would connect the road that runs through Ince to Amberswood over land that is currently used by local people for leisure activities and dog-walking.
It is subject to the planning approval of a 101-home development opposite Claire House Surgery on Phoenix Way, which would release developer contributions.
Public-private joint venture Hive Homes, which has been tasked with supporting housing growth across the region by GMCA, has promised to retain as much open public space as possible at the site. Footpaths would also be included throughout the development in order to help maintain its current recreational use, a report has stated.
This housing site would run adjacent to a 325-home development that has already been given the go-ahead in the area.
Ince link road: at the planning stage
Plans for a 325-home development have already been granted planning permission to take over the old Wigan Enterprise Park in Ince. Plans include a section of new link road to the south of the houses – part of the wider M6-M61 project.
The development proposal, by Barratt Homes, was given the green light in 2019, despite reservations at Wigan Town Hall – but so far no approval has been granted for the link road.
Amberswood Link Road: At planning stage
Work did begin to clear the way for this section of road in 2015, but not much has happened since. This section would connect the route from Ince on Phoenix Way to the south of Hindley.
Amberswood is a well-loved outdoor space used by local residents which was transformed from a coal mining pit to one of the borough’s nature reserves and granted national recognition last year.
There is currently no housing development directly connected to this site like there is with others. That means there would be no additional Section 106 money that could go towards this development.
South of Hindley: Part of the proposed strategic development, outline planning application submitted but not yet approved
South of Hindley is one the largest plans to create a brand new community in the area, with 2,000 new homes. plus shops, offices and industrial and commercial premises proposed.
This would require a new through road that forms part of the M6/M61 route from the A578 Leigh Road to the A58 Liverpool Road.
“South of Hindley is well placed to take advantage of this strategic opportunity to generate new investment and jobs,” Wigan Council claim. However, the new road is a necessary part of this development on the council owned land as it currently has inadequate access.
Northleigh link and Northleigh to Athereigh link: Planning permission in place as part of the North Leigh Park strategic development
Multiple housing developments are set to be part of the planned 1,800 homes and employment space coming to this part of Leigh. This would unlock the next connection of the link road, between Hindley and Atherleigh Way.
Two housing developments totalling 507 homes proposed by developers Countryside off Nel Pan Lane have already been approved. Back in 2021, when the planning committee gave the thumbs up to this – there were concerns about a potential 4,500 new residents to the area.
Councillors wanted to see expanded amenities such as doctors surgeries to deal with the extra people coming in. Work also needs to be done to remediate the site that has been contaminated by previous mining work in the area.
Atherleigh Way to Leigh Road: Not off the ground
There were plans in the 2019 bid to pursue a section of the link road which would connect Atherleigh Way to the route between the M6 and M61, connecting the main road that takes motorists from Leigh through Westhoughton and into Bolton, but they remain on hold.
However, if the plans don’t materialise it would not mean a gap in the full link road as the scheme would only provide a relatively small chunk of road onto the main carriageway.
Gibfield Park Way extension: Part of the strategic development site proposed in the Places for Everyone Plan (planning stage)
This site incorporates 700 homes and 45,500 sq m of employment space. Bordering Atherton, development on either side of Gibfield Park Way would act as a ‘logical extension to Gibfield’.
The commercial space proposed would be similar to that at J25 of the M6 – industrial, logistics and warehousing. It includes a new road link to Junction 5 of the M61, substantial green space and improved services at, and access to, Daisy Hill station.
Westhoughton bypass: Still at the planning stage
This bypass would connect the route running from Pemberton in Wigan all the way to the M61 in Bolton, reducing traffic flows through Westhoughton, where there has been a significant expansion of housing developments.
Who would pay for this and how long would it take?
Previously, Bolton and Wigan jointly bid for £186m of housing infrastructure funding to deliver the strategic link. While that bid was unsuccessful, Homes England gave feedback that the bid or a combination of bids could be suitable for longer term funding.
Now the councils have had to shift to generating separate funding for each project, it means the entirety of the link road could take far longer than the estimated completion date of 2037 to become a reality.