Wigan's eyesore buildings needing some attention
The ever-changing landscape of Wigan and Leigh has thrown up its masterpieces and monstrosities over the years.
First-time visitors to the borough will never fail to marvel at its architectural triumphs along with the surprising amount of attractive countryside and other natural beauties it boasts.
And overall, most residents will perhaps agree that its centres, towns and villages are more comely than they were in the days of tightly packed streets of sooty back-to-back houses and a greater preponderance of industrial buildings whose practicalities took precedence over aesthetic values.
That’s not to say that modern days haven’t produced ugly edifices too though. There was a huge storm 20 years ago when Heinz-Wincanton were allowed to construct their vast, grey, featureless distribution centre at Martland Park which can be seen from miles around and was described by one scornful town planner as “that giraffe house.”
But at least it is put to good use. What can be far more offending to the eye are buildings which may once have been good-looking (or in fact may never have been) but are now sitting there unloved, and unused.
The Wigan Observer carried out a bit of a straw poll for people to nominate the borough’s biggest or longest-running eyesores.
And it also asked Wigan Council what could be done to encourage/force owners of these sites at least to spruce them up, if not to renovate or replace them completely.
And among the most complained about sites were:
Brentwood - that big old house on Wigan Lane just down from The Cherry Gardens which has long been the subject of planning applications and protests and has gradually fallen into worsening decrepitude.
The Rock Hotel - a former pub on Warrington Road, Ince which commuters can’t fail to miss.
Grimes Arcade - an unused shopping mall between King Street and Library Street which has stood empty for more than a decade.
A former Indian takeaway on Poolstock which was recently the subject of an arson attack which worsened its already appalling condition.
An abandoned house and grounds at the junction of Hesketh Meadow Lane and Newton Road, Lowton.
Grand Arcade phase II - the area at the bottom of Millgate which was originally to have housed Tower Grand: a high rise block of office and leisure facilities but then stalled in the recession and it, and subsequent plans for the area have failed to come to fruition (pictured right).
People also flagged up the site of what used to be Wigan town hall on Riverway which has of late been pressed into use as a much potholed car park.
That site too has been the subject of several ambitious planning applications which have failed to go further than the blueprint stage.
Wigan Council confirmed that it was currently considering an application for conversion and extension for office uses at Brentwood.
But Karl Battersby, the authority’s director for economy and environment, said: “There are no current complaints in respect to any of these buildings, but we will certainly investigate what can be done to improve their appearance.
“There have been many instances where we have worked with property owners to improve the condition of their properties.
“Where this cannot be achieved by negotiation, then we do have powers under both the planning and building act to require works to be carried out.
“In some circumstances we can take direct action, such as at Pagefield Mill, but we would only do that as a last resort.”
The council does have powers to ask an owner of land or building to take steps to improve their appearance but it uses these powers sparingly, perhaps recognising that if a building is not in use, the owner finds it hard to justify spending a lot of money maintaining a white elephant, especially during lean economic times.
But all complaints are investigated thoroughly to determine whether there is a case for formal action.
Businessman Tony Callaghan has received both praise and brickbats for his investments in the borough. In the last two years he has brought both the Last Orders pub in Standish (spending hundreds of thousands turning it into another of his Fifteens watering holes) and the Royal Oak on Standishgate back into use from states of dereliction.
But he also owns a number of buildings which continue to attract criticism through lack of development and increased decay.
One is the former Cross Keys pub in Ashton which was recently the subject of an Observer story in which he voiced his frustrations alongside those of residents and said he could only spend so much money shoring it up if there were no viable projects at present.
He faces a similar scenario with the upper floors of the block of buildings on Wallgate (his Harry’s Bar is at the top end) which at one time was earmarked for a Premier Inn before the recession struck and the hotel chain then moved to the former police HQ - another long-time anti-landmark - on Harrogate Street instead.
And he also co-owns the Grimes Arcade on our hit list along with fellow businessman Neil Kay.
At one time it was a handsome walk-through between two key streets with Dawson’s music shop at one end and the Cheers Bar at the other. But they closed some 15 years ago and after the purchase was made by Mssrs Kay and Callaghan several years later, the dreaded recession intervened again.
Since then though a further problem has emerged in that King Street isn’t what it used to be. Mr Callaghan said: “We bought Grimes Arcade as an investment for us and we would love to see it redeveloped.
“But the issue is that it probably isn’t worth just doing that up on its own. That wouldn’t solve the problem. It needs to be part of a much larger investment for the whole street.
“King Street used to be a big pub street but it has gone into decline.
“There needs to be a major re-think involving the council and other owners and developers.
“Grimes Arcade is currently shut off because it has a glass roof which is in disrepair and we needed to be able to protect the public. It has great potential though: it used to be the sheriff’s office and has a vault in it where the gold was kept.
“One day it will enjoy a new life, but there needs to be a plan that recognises what people want to do these days in the town centre on a Friday and Saturday night.”
So it could be quite a while yet before that one enjoys a renaissance.
But some eyesores do eventually disappear.
Work is currently taking place to remove the long disused giant gas holder and associated buildings on Darlington Street which, it is hoped, can then be more smartly redeveloped.
Further along Poolstock from the old takeaway stands what used to be the Shanghai Palace which has been much vandal-hit but could now soon become a housing estate.
So there is hope that one day these seemingly intractable problems can be solved.