Questions and Answers - 2020

Question Reference Number 864636

Regarding the proposed housing on car park at Queen St Leigh:

  1. The artist impression looks like something akin to Strangeways Prison. Who on earth imagines that the entrance to Leigh town centre is blighted by an unobtrusive car park and will be in any way enhanced by disproportionately high ugly social housing blocks which are architecturally totally out of character with anything nearby?
  2. I note that it is stated that these blocks when occupied will benefit local businesses. Has anyone surveyed local businesses for an opinion on that point? Who EXACTLY is Wigan Council proposing should be housed here - because it may well be that an attendant rise in anti-social behaviour in the proximity may well detract from and decrease the existing support for business in the area?
  3. Why, when considering reassigning land use in Leigh does the choice have to be binary - retail or social housing? Is there no one on Wigan Council with ANY idea of town centre development/ planning? Could this site not perchance be developed as a 'leisure' hub to incorporate and encourage cafe/wine bar/restaurant facilities to develop? Please do not keep fobbing us off with the 'not needed in Leigh' mantra. Other towns are developing exactly along that route and are thriving as a result. And, if no one on Wigan Council has any ideas just ask towns like Monton, Urmston, Bury, and even Oldham (about to get a £300m+ makeover) how they did it because they seem to be doing a pretty good job.

Leigh is haemorrhaging young bright professional people who could really make a difference to the prosperity of the town because all we can offer is supermarkets and social housing blocks.

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration

Thank you for your question. It is understood that, due to the prominent location of the site, the building and surrounding landscaping should be appropriate for the location. The design for the building proposed has been developed by our architects in close liaison with Council conservation, design and development control officers, all professionally qualified and experienced in development and regeneration, who are supportive of the design in principle. It features a traditional brick finish with a high level of detail that cannot necessarily be seen in some of the illustrations of the building. 

The design is considered suitable for the location, taking its lead from the traditional architecture of the area of brick elevations, window patterns, strong gables and roof lines, as illustrated below.  Similar design treatment has been adopted to our Wharfdale extra care scheme opposite, that will replace the existing building on that site.

Our intention is that the two buildings together act as a gateway to Leigh town centre and are of a suitable scale to positively change the nature of the environment in the area. This reflects the historic character of the site which was densely built up before the actual railway arches were demolished nine years ago. Currently the area appears open and devoid of buildings and features, as it comprises mainly surface car parking, and does not give any definition to the approach to Leigh town centre from Manchester Road, as illustrated below.

Consultation was held with local residents and businesses prior to the submission of the proposals to planning. Concerns raised during the consultation have been considered and addressed. The block will have 40 apartments, with a mix of one and two bedrooms and will be owned and managed by Wigan Council. All apartments will be let on affordable rent tenancies to applicants from the Council’s housing register. The scheme will have an allocation policy which incorporates a local lettings policy. The local lettings policy would require residents to have a local connection to the Wigan borough and meet strict affordability criteria. The local lettings policy will also allow the Council to carry out anti-social behaviour checks and police checks on all potential tenants. An experienced member of staff will also conduct home visits to check suitability of prospective tenants and also the condition of their current property prior to allocation. We will adopt high management standards for our properties, including issuing all new tenants with introductory tenancies which are for a period of 12 months before becoming a secure tenancy. Any problems which arise during the first 12 months can be dealt quickly and easier during an introductory tenancy.

Wigan Council is experiencing unprecedented and growing demand on social housing across the borough with housing register cases doubling in the last 18 months to over 9000 people and over the last 4 years the Council has lost 755 homes due to “Right to Buy”. Around 10% of housing register cases list Leigh town centre as their first area of choice and around 5% list it as a second choice. This shows an urgent need for the development of additional Council homes in the area. These additional residents will support local town centre facilities.

Whilst we consider this site a suitable location for sustainable town centre living, we do recognise the need to create a better functioning and attractive town centre in Leigh, with a good retail and a range of other uses, quality green space and easy accessibility.

There have been a number of recent investment and developments for leisure and retail schemes in Leigh town centre, supported by Wigan Council, including The Loom, town centre cinema and restaurants, current investment in the refurbishment of Leigh town hall; the massively successful busway and the ground breaking Leigh Sports Village.

However, we recognise the need for  a strategic approach to the future regeneration of Leigh town centre and therefore are developing a Strategic Regeneration Framework for Leigh town centre in response to the challenges that the town is experiencing and to capitalise upon opportunities for revitalising town centre that include living, shopping and leisure. This development site and the redevelopment at Wharfdale are being factored into that analysis and can evidence early delivery of the emerging new vision.

The planning application, reference number A/19/88342/MAJLA, is currently being considered by the local planning authority and you are able to make comments on the scheme up until Monday 24 February 2020. Any representations made to the local planning authority will be considered as part of the consideration of the planning application. Full details of the application can be viewed and comments (external link).

Question Reference Number 864637

Regarding the Homeless grant - £728,000 for Wigan. Why has Wigan borough been given almost 7 times the amount given to the next nearest donee (other than Salford) and more than 14 times more than most other councils in Greater Manchester? Do we really have 14 times more homeless people than other Manchester councils/boroughs? If so we need far more than a charity handout. Or is it that we simply have a surplus of cheap accommodation here in Wigan and thus we can accommodate much of the Manchester homeless problem that Mayor Andy Burnham talks at great length about but which he refuses to persuade greedy Manchester Council to do anything about, less it tarnishes or damages their 'glass palace' city centre. I'm sure we have great charities here in Wigan borough that do great work with the homeless. However, I also think that, in line with many things, the need rises with the money made available. Do we really want to be the magnet for all Greater Manchester's homeless and the many fold problems and pressures that would bring?

Response from Councillor Terence Halliwell – Portfolio Holder for Housing and Welfare

Thank you for your enquiry, I hope I can reassure you that being awarded £728,000 from national funding is good news for the Borough and reflects the good work that has been achieved to date. All local authorities had to prepare a costed bid for the fund, based on their level of ambition for the future, so the amount awarded to Wigan has no connection to the number of rough sleepers in the Borough. Wigan was awarded all of the money we requested, reflecting a strong history of positive work in this area and faith in our ability to deliver against our proposal. In Wigan Borough we are proud to say there has been a reduction in the number of rough sleepers from 30 people in 2017 to 7 people, as of the count at the end of January 2020.

Wigan’s bid addressed the wider homelessness agenda, not only an immediate emergency response to rough sleeping, and is focussed on preventing homelessness and supporting people to live independent, healthy lives. This includes work with private landlords, supporting people into long term, secure and affordable homes and addressing some of the complex reasons for rough sleeping. It is important to note that if people from out of borough present as homeless in Wigan they are connected back to their local area for support, so receiving this money does not create any risk around additional demand.

Question Reference Number 864638

Do you have updated estimates of -

  1. The opening date for the A49 Link Road?
  2. The start date on the M58 Link Road?

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration

The A49 Link Road is on track to be completed in Spring 2020.  We do not yet have a confirmed date for the road opening, but as soon as this is known the Council will issue a formal release via the usual communication channels.

The M58 Link Road is currently scheduled to start on site in 2021.

Question Reference Number 864639

Please supply information on the non-elected members making decisions about Leigh who sit on the Board 'Believe in Leigh.

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration

Thank you for your enquiry. I can confirm that no unelected members have taken decisions about Leigh or Believe in Leigh funding.  All funding decisions are taken by Cabinet and approved by Council.

Question Reference Number 864640

Please may I ask if I and my group Leigh Film - Charity could join the ‘Believe in Leigh’ steering group?

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration

Thank you for your enquiry. The Believe in Leigh Board will no longer be meeting now that funding priorities have been determined. We will continue to engage Leigh stakeholders as we take forward the Leigh strategic masterplan and we will ensure that a representative of Leigh Film is invited to any future events.

Question Reference Number 864641

Please send a breakdown of the £5m allocation for Leigh Civic Centre, how it was spent etc. 

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration

Thank you for your enquiry. Plans for a town centre youth hub and new visitor facilities at Pennington Flash are among regeneration projects set to receive Believe in Leigh funding. Wigan Council has revealed details for the second phase of the £5m fund including projects addressing priority areas highlighted by residents. Following feedback from two major consultations, improvements to Civic Square, further investment at Leigh Market Hall and a new canal bridge are also among the proposals. A total of £1m has been earmarked for youth facilities in the town centre with plans to engage the community to help shape the development.

Scheduled improvements to Pennington Flash include new parking areas, a café, visitor information centre and rooftop seating area. Refurbishment at Civic Square will include public realm works linked to the regeneration of the Town Hall and supporting the Turnpike Gallery. A further £500k will be invested to improve customer experience at the ever-popular Leigh market.

Believe in Leigh cash will also be used to boost existing funds for a new canal bridge to connect The Loom retail park to development on West Bridgewater Street. And Believe in Leigh capital funding will be bolstered by an action plan to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and improve community cohesion, with representatives of the Council, the police, health and education providers coming together to address the concerns identified by local people.

Question Reference Number 864642

Regarding your answers to the matters I raised in Q864636 of 2020 -

1. If the Artists impression of these apartment blocks is not a true representation can we please have a true representation on which we can realistically comment

2.I note that landscaping is mentioned as part of the scheme - the artists impression does not appear to show any landscaping. Can we please have some idea of the landscaping design to be incorporated.

3.Your inference that the site was previously densely populated with buildings and therefore will be somehow enhanced by again being populated with dark, dense tenement blocks is backward looking not forward facing. It's 2020 not 1920. Whilst the existing buildings have some quaint authentic charm these oversized tenement blocks have neither. Better to select a key colour from the original buildings(natural stone?) and make that the focus colour bringing in elements of the brick of the original buildings - not red incidentally.

4. The area of Leigh in which this development is planned is probably the nicer area of the town centre where recently a number of small niche independent businesses have opened. In fact just the type of businesses town centres now need if they are to stay relevant at all. I remain totally unconvinced that the tenants who will reside in this development will in any way support or enhance these businesses. Given that these tenants have been assessed as being in desperate need of social housing I would expect the only business that will see any increase in trade is the nearby discount supermarket which is neither local nor independent being owned by a German multi national.

5. More importantly though than the design, or spending power of these tenants, against a fall of 4% nationwide in demand for social housing why has the demand in Wigan borough increased by almost 100% in 18 months - I believe the figure is 79%? How many households single/couple/ family does the figure of 9000 comprise? This is both astounding and worrying especially as there has not to my knowledge been any substantial local demolitions/slum clearance programme. nor any substantial increase in employment opportunities in the borough to encourage or support such an increase AND there is a considerable amount of reasonably priced private rented accommodation available. If then, this increase cannot be attributed, will it double again in the next 18 months? Have Wigan Council planned for this? Where will all these people go given there is no support forthcoming from central government for social housing.

6. Interesting that The Galleries in Wigan town centre (council owned) is to be redeveloped again. Interesting as well that this refurbishment does not include any social housing to enhance and support businesses in Wigan town centre. Instead it is to include a selection of leisure facilities, of which the people of Wigan are clearly more worthy than the people of Leigh.

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration

1. All details of the proposed design, including plans and elevations, have been submitted to the planning authority in support of the planning application and is currently being considered. Any additional information requested to support the application will be made to the planning authority and required amendments made. In addition, planning conditions will be applied to the permission to ensure that it meets all statutory planning requirements.

As explained in the previous response, these can be viewed online and comments made using the following link. The planning application, reference number A/19/88342/MAJLA, is currently being considered by the local planning authority. Any representations made to the local planning authority will be considered as part of the consideration of the planning application.

https://www.wigan.gov.uk/Resident/Planning-and-Building-Control/Planning/Search-planning-applications.aspx

2. A landscape plan and landscape specification has been submitted to the planning authority and is available on the above link. This contains all details of the proposed landscaping for the site.

3. As stated previously, the design for the building has been developed in close liaison with council conservation, design and development control officers and exceeds all current standards for light, space and accessibility. A Design and Access Statement has been submitted as part of the planning application and is available on the above link.

4. There are a range of households occupying social housing tenancies, with a range of household and economic circumstances. Many working households currently live in council accommodation, on average, across all council tenancies, around 42% of households do not receive benefits. Regardless of income and household circumstances, all are contributing to the local economy and will be using a range of shops and services locally.

5. The 4% fall in demand nationwide was reported on 1.4.18, we have seen significant increase in demand since this time. A recent review of the allocation policies across Greater Manchester identified that local authorities are seeing an increase in social housing applications from households in very high need. Simultaneously turnover and lettings are decreasing; with people remaining in their homes. A breakdown of the waiting list cases indicates around 51% of cases are single applicants, 11% are couples and 38% are families.

There is a combination of reasons for the increase in demand including changes in legislation, welfare changes and the ability for people to afford other types of accommodation including private rented.  Some properties within other sectors are not always in good condition and they only offer short term tenancy agreements resulting in demand for social housing.

The government does provide capital funding in the form of grants to council’s and housing associations to build new affordable homes. The development proposed at the Railway Arches site is one scheme in an ongoing programme to deliver new affordable homes across the borough. The programme is funded by the council’s Housing Revenue Account and is supplemented by grant from Homes England, who award the government’s funding for new affordable homes.

6. We are developing a range of proposals to support the regeneration of both Wigan and Leigh town centres, including leisure, retail and residential uses, as outlined in the previous response.

With regards to the proposals for the Galleries, a mixed use development is proposed, but the specific proposals for the site are not yet agreed. Some residential use is proposed and this will include an element of affordable housing in line with the council’s policy requirement that new housing developments should provide 25% affordable homes.

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