Ambitious plans to transform Wigan town centre are back on track as the council is set to unveil a multi-million pound masterplan.
Dark clouds had begun to circle around previous projects set to provide an economic boost - such as the redevelopment of the Galleries - but town hall bosses say there is fresh cause for optimism.
Officers will launch their new scheme in the autumn but have revealed aspects of the plans to the Observer to reassure residents of their ambitions.
Karl Battersby, director of economy and environment, said: “There’s some very good prospects here and there’s also a good basis to build on in the town centre. Transforming the town centre is very much a council priority.”
At the turn of the year uncertainty hanging over several development schemes set to provide unprecedented boosts to Wigan town centre would have sent alarms bells ringing in the corridors of the town hall.
“Helping our town centres is very much a council priority, we will have this plan, which the public will have a part in and we want to take our ambitions forward.
There are some very good prospects for us here, there’s a good basis on build onKarl Battersby
“Giving businesses a bit of a foot-up (through the Vitality Scheme) is a crucial part of it. It’s not about giving failing businesses a hand-out, it’s about growing something new, utilising vacant properties.
“We are well blessed in Wigan as we’ve got many of the major multiples you would expect but we’d like to encourage more independents, they’re what make you a bit different and what attract people in.”
A total of £500k has been earmarked and prospective recipients will be required to apply with the town hall and present a business case to support their application.
A major part of the town centre plan, Mr Battersby added, is helping secure the future of The Galleries after its ownership changed hands last year. New owners Colony Capital, through its UK arm Ellandi, had indicated it was reviewing the £60m redevelopment project already granted planning permission by the council which included a cinema and major leisure and entertainment facilities.
Mr Battersby said talks between the town hall and the firm have been “positive” and further updates are expected in the near future.
Council led plans to level off Marketplace have hit delays this year but works are now set to start in the new year so as to not disrupt events such as the Wigan 10k and then Christmas trading.
Mr Battersby said: “We’ve had a number of things such as Armed Forces Day (which have meant it couldn’t start in the summer months) but the money is still there and we’re committed to it.
“We’ve had a re-think on the water feature aspect of it, so that won’t be there. It will start very early in the new year and have high quality seating and lighting. It will really lift the centre of town, providing a much better space for events and performances.”
And there is also positive news about another stalled scheme; the troublesome Tower Grand site next to the Grand Arcade.
Developers had planned to turn it into a retail and hotel outlet but had been forced into a re-think through lack of interest.
New plans to build flats on the site adjacent to River Way remain on track and the town hall is expecting a planning application to finalise the details of “Tower Approach” by the end of the year.
Construction on the new bus station will start in early 2017 and, to add to this, the council also is due to embark on a consultation to assess options for joining up the town’s two train stations.
Mr Battersby added: “We’re at very early stages, but we want to see how to better align the stations. We want to work with TfGM to see what we can do and this could be aligned with HS2.
“We’re looking to make it feel like one destination for rail. The distance between our two stations is less than the distance between the inner and outer platforms at Manchester Piccadilly, for example, so we’ll be looking at ways we can make it feel like one facility.”
On the over-arching plans to improve the town centre, he said: “We want to grow what we’ve got and offer a better leisure offering in the town.
“We’ve got a night-time economy but we want to perhaps vary what we’re currently offering at the moment. The bus station development will be a great shot in the arm.
“There are some very good prospects for us here, there’s a good basis on build on.”