Council chiefs came out fighting for the future of Wigan town centre this week after it suffered more blows to its retail sector.
Wigan Council bosses are reassuring residents that there is a “promising” future for the town centre after Marks and Spencer announced its controversial relocation last week.
The retail giant has revealed proposals to close the Standishgate store and move to Robin Retail Park, following in the footsteps of TK Maxx and KFC.
As part of the move, the department store is expected to be transformed into one of its trademark Foodhalls with a click and collect service.
An M&S spokesperson said: “Shopping habits are changing so it’s vital we adapt our store estate to best serve our customers.
“As part of this we’re proposing to relocate our store in the town centre to the Robin Retail Park and we’re exploring options for a new Foodhall that would offer Click & Collect.
“We’ll keep the community updated as plans progress.”
The move comes as a huge blow to the already struggling high street, which has seen the loss of major household names over the past 10 years such as Morrisons, Bhs, HMV and Jessops.
Council chiefs are now seeking to reassure businesses and visitors to the centre, saying that a “strategic development plan” is being advanced to secure the future viability of the town.
Becca Heron, director of economy and skills at Wigan Council, said: “All town centres are currently facing significant challenges as shopping habits change and although it’s disappointing to lose a retailer from the town centre we know they also need to adapt to these changes.
“It’s a blow for people when the town centre loses a house hold name and a high street staple.
“I think Wigan town centre is like a lot of town centres. We are not alone in the fact that we are trying to deal with a decline in demand for what you might call ‘traditional’ retail because people’s habits are changing more and more.
“Customers do want to shop online and I think that will continue. Also people do like being able to visit out-of-town retail parks because they can park easily.
“However I do think there is still a role in town centres. I think people like coming into the town.
“The problem is there is too much space, when you think about places like Argos and Index, they took up huge spaces. A lot of that demand has been replaced with online shopping.
“We need to try and condense the retail space which again leads us thinking what do we do with the rest of it?”
As part of a plan to have control over the future of the town centre, the council purchased The Galleries back in March this year.
“We think there’s much demand for leisure, food and drink and possibly some residential,” said Ms Heron.
“HS2 arrives in Wigan in 2026, that offers a real potential for the town as a commuter hub. It will be quicker for people to get to London and Birmingham from Wigan than from Manchester.
“It will boost demand for retail, employment space and hotels. We know already that the hotels in Wigan are often fully booked so we know that there’s demand for hotels.”
Research recently conducted by Wigan Council revealed that there is interest in town centre residential properties.
“We would like to see a diverse offering not just flats,” added Ms Heron. “Obviously flats are an attractive offer and apartments are quite popular with young people in particular.
“But I think what Wigan offers is what a lot of cities don’t. When people start a family they want easy access to the essential services.
“We have some excellent schools in and around the town centre, we also have great parks for families. On top of that we have great health facilities all accessible from the town centre, as well as public transport.
“This a work in progress but we are keen to talk to developers to find out what is available on which sites.”
Ms Heron, who was recently appointed as a town hall director, said that the council will also focus on in-town events such as Pride, the Wigan 10k and comic-con.
“We are focusing on bringing people into the town centre for reasons other than retail,” she added.
There are currently no firm dates for any new openings in the town centre, but the council has said that discussions are well under way and proposals will be revealed as soon as possible.