Visitors pour into Wigan after parking fees waived
Hundreds of extra visitors flooded into Wigan and Leigh on the first weekend of a new free parking scheme.
In a bid to boost the number of shoppers coming to the beleaguered main centres of the borough, the council announced that it is waiving charges at authority-owned multi-storeys and surface parking areas on both Saturdays and Sundays.
The move at a stroke makes Wigan a more attractive parking proposition than many North West town centres, some of which have free-after-three arrangements or free admission on Sundays only.
It is currently a trial which will remain in place until after the new year sales and then be reassessed by the local authority as to whether it has worked and/or whether the town hall can continue to afford to take a hit on revenues.
The concession is predicted to cost the public coffers £250,000.
And after one weekend of the scheme, the signs are positive.
Because most of the car parks are not staffed, the council is not able to provide accurate figures for any increases in footfall at all 17 of the sites it runs.
But it was shown that at the Galleries and Water Street multi-storeys, 430 more people parked there over the two days than have done of late on average.
Onlookers also observed that other car parks - such as Mona Street - were fuller than usual.
The policy was announced at full council last week by leader David Molyneux in response to fears of retailers and customers gradually ebbing away from Wigan and Leigh.
Both have lost a significant number of high street names, one way or the other, in recent years and now Marks and Spencer has said it is looking to pull out of its Standishgate outlet - M&S has been in Wigan town centre since Victorian times - to open a food hall at Robin Park instead.
Looking at the initial figures from the free parking weekend, Coun Molyneux said: “It’s fantastic that we have seen an increase in cars parking in Wigan and Leigh town centres during the first weekend of this offer.
“In just two car parks, we have seen an increase of more than 430 cars compared to last weekend so we are confident that this number is actually much larger taking into consideration each of the other council owned car parks.
“This decision demonstrates our commitment to businesses and residents and is also proof that free parking is an incentive for people to come into our town centres.
“We will continue to monitor the number of cars parking in council car parks and are optimistic that these numbers will only increase as the weeks go by, which will ultimately have a positive impact on our local economy.”
The council has been looking to put the Galleries shopping centre to greater use since its bought the centre back from its private owners.
Long term it is considering a greater focus on food and drink establishments, leisure facilities and accommodation, and so accepting that the retail hub will be a smaller one in future.
Before then though it is hosting a number of events to put the facilities to temporary use. A Guardians of the Galleries comic con event the other week saw 3,500 people descend on the arcade and this Saturday the outdoor market will be given over to a food and drink festival running from 3pm to 9pm.