D-Day looms over Wigan college building's future

The future of Wigan’s former university technical college building could be decided within days.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:15 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:16 pm
The UTC building

Two rival business plans have been submitted for the vacant premises - one by the University of Bolton, the other by Wigan and Leigh College.

Which bidder gets the nod is within the gift of Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson who is said to be delivering his verdict imminently.

It was in September that the Wigan Observer revealed that the university had been in early talks with the board of the UTC - which shut last summer because of a continued student shortage - about the possibility of turning it into a campus and centre of excellence.

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Backers said it would capitalise on the state-of-the-art vocational studies equipment left behind - including Britain’s only vertical farm - bring up to 1,500 students to the town, create 50 jobs and boost the local economy.

But then it emerged that the college across the road had also expressed an interest in putting the buildings to good use.

Wigan and Leigh itself already runs higher education courses, including engineering, through its links with the University of Central Lancashire.

A statement at the time read: “As a local education provider Wigan and Leigh College will be working through the formal process that will determine the future use of the former UTC building.

“The process is expected to involve the funding agencies and the Department for Education, in consultation with Wigan Council.

“The college is looking forward to submitting its own proposals for the future use of the UTC building with other local partners when the formal process begins.

“It should also be remembered that the college already works with a number of high quality higher education providers as part of our university centre and has a well-established centre of excellence in engineering at our Pagefield campus.”

Before then Bolton University’s deputy vice-chancellor Kondal Reddy Kandadi had said: “The University of Bolton aims to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to develop the former Wigan UTC and its associated learning infrastructure into a vibrant, fully-fledged and sustainable University Campus facility and Centre of Excellence.

“This Wigan University facility and Centre of Excellence would be based in the state-of-the-art building in New Market Street that housed UTC Wigan until its closure.

“The University of Bolton will, thanks to its academic strengths and first class links with industry, be able to create and deliver a holistic education offer in high demand disciplines including Health, Engineering, Supply Chain and Logistics, Retail, Computing, and Creative Technologies.”

Both institutions have since submitted business plans and neither this week said they would like to publicly comment further at present.

Mr Williamson had been scheduled to rule on his preferred option before Christmas but the verdict was delayed, possibly due to the general election.

Then it was due mid-January but then word came that the decision would come before the end of the month.

Built in 1900, the UTC on Parson’s Walk and New Market Street was originally Rushton Mill (named after an ancestor of the cartoonist Willie Rushton) and was used as a food and grain warehouse.

It was later renamed Civic Buildings and became the base for the gas showrooms.

Being opposite the Market Square coach companies collecting people to go on day trips and holidays used to tell them to wait at the gas showrooms.

It then became the base for the council’s planning department for many years before being acquired for the UTC when it underwent a £5m refurbishment and opened in 2013.

When it was announced that the UTC was closing just six years later it was mooted that the building might be used for student flats