It’s a common misconception among outsiders who don’t know Wigan that we live in a heavily built-up area with barely a tree or field to be seen.
But that has never been the case, even though the population of almost 320,000 is the second largest in Greater Manchester and equals the number of Icelanders in the world.
And if proof were needed, new figures show today that only 23 per cent of the borough’s land has been developed.
But the rising population isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially if one bears in mind that there have been recent battles lost and won in the fight to prevent green belts being built on.
And with the country’s population set to reach 70 million by 2030, environmental campaigners say building new homes and infrastructure cannot come at nature’s expense.
In 2017, 43km sq of Wigan was developed, according to recently released data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
This compares to eight per cent of land across England, with homes, offices and rubbish dumps among the uses.
In Wigan, agriculture was the biggest user of land, taking up 40 per cent of the overall area.
Second were forests, open land and bodies of water, which take up 14 per cent.
Green belts, scenic sites preserving the countryside around urban areas, stretch across about 57 per cent of the land in Wigan – compared to 13 per cent nationwide.
The protected areas can be developed but are subject to tight building controls.
Overall, eight per cent of land within Wigan’s green belt boundary is now classed as developed: matching the English average.
A further 460,000 homes have also been planned on green belt lands.
Rebecca Pullinger, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said previously developed brownfield land provides enough room for new houses.
She added: “There is space on brownfield land for more than one million new homes, but if its potential is to be fully realised, the Government, councils and house builders must all take a brownfield-first approach to development.
“We should also be investing in the green belt to improve its value as a vital public resource, enhancing nature by planting trees and restoring wetlands, and improving access and accessibility so more people than ever can enjoy its benefits.”