Questions and Answers - 2021

Question Reference Number 864653

Which planet exactly are the members of Wigan Council on? Clearly it is not planet Earth - where may I remind you we are all currently in the grip of the greatest health crisis for 100 years. However this is obviously a great time to announce that Wigan Town Centre is about to receive £130 million for (yet another) makeover/regeneration project. Always good to try to bury unwelcome news under a greater crisis. I'm sure everyone in Leigh, Atherton, Tyldesley, Hindley, and other towns starved of any proper investment over the years will be much buoyed by the fact that we will all benefit from this huge investment because any benefits generated from this multi million pound spend will be spent in the whole Borough!! Really?? Why do we all have to accept that the only way we in this Borough can ever derive any benefit is from a huge investment in Wigan Town centre where all the money previously wasted appears to have benefitted us not one jot. I certainly will not accept that. And before anyone mentions the less that £1million investment spent in Leigh in recent years let me tell you what I see for that investment:

  1. Spy in the Sky cameras to record the criminal activities of the various types of low level people that Wigan Council are more than happy to encourage into Leigh by the building of so called 'affordable' housing and the 'nod through' of permissions for development of houses of multiple occupation, and slum level apartment conversions in the vicinity of the town centre (no doubt set to increase as more businesses close)
  2. The digging up and relaying of a section of block paving.
  3. The planting of a very small number of ornamental trees complete with automatic fairy lights which are I am sure admired by the drunks and drug addicts and feral children who are the only people I know of who are on Bradshawgate, Leigh once dusk and night time descends. After all - why would anyone else be there? There isn't any reason to be there as nothing is open past 5pm.
  4. The refurbishment of Leigh Town Hall which seems to have taken forever and will give us what? A museum!! Why was not the Galleries turned into a museum and the money spent on Leigh Town Hall spent in Leigh town centre? Please let me know if there is anything that has substantially improved Leigh town centre that I may have missed.

I note that there is £5million in the Believe in Leigh fund - gosh how miniscule that looks by the side of £130 million. I understand that we are to be consulted on how this huge sum should be spent and that improvements are mooted for Leigh Market Hall. What will these be - a lick of paint and new light bulbs? Where do I find more information on this consultation process or is that buried amongst all the bad news as well.

Of course most other market towns are realising the benefits and sustainability of attracting a younger demographic into their markets and are opening Food Halls, Forecourts and Festivals. The benefits of this to the traders and the community have been proven in places abroad and in the UK like Altrincham and many others and are obviously recognised by the councillors of Wigan as I see (no surprises here) the very same is proposed for Wigan Market. Will we get anything similar in Leigh or are such cosmopolitan ideas only for the people of Wigan and far too trendy for people in Leigh?

This brings me to the matter of Leigh Sports Village now home to a Super League rugby team and owned in part by Wigan Council who must then receive some of the funds generated there from. Additionally this much trumpeted venue is I understand scheduled (pandemic permitting) to host a couple of international events in the mid term future. Plus it is home to Manchester United U23 team and their successful ladies team. I wonder what impression of Leigh the supporters of these events must garner as they drive through a town with two run down accommodation venues - none particularly aesthetically pleasing and none of which I personally would choose to stay in, and a town with not one single pavement fronted cafe or bar. No 'evening entertainment economy' in Leigh to benefit the whole Borough yet - there it is in the plan for Wigan ' evening entertainment venues' to benefit us all - though how they would be of any use or benefit to the large number of visitors to Leigh Sports Village I do not know.

Perhaps a day trip out of the ivory towers to some towns like Altrincham which seems to have moved from zero to hero following its town centre regeneration might inspire and kick start some positive and creative thinking for our town centres i.e. more social amenities and less nail bars and vape shops. And perhaps the person who managed to secure the investment of £130million for Wigan could now be transferred to the 'securing investment for Leigh Atherton and Tyldesley' department so the people of those towns who have no doubt contributed significantly to the councils share of that £130 million investment could benefit more directly in terms of amenities, socialisation, well being and employment than simply hanging on to Wigan town centre coat tails. 

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder – Economic Development and Regeneration and Councillor Paul Prescott – Portfolio Holder – Planning, Environmental Services and Transport

I would like to reassure you that Wigan Council is committed to supporting all of the town centres across the borough - creating “vibrant town centres” is one of the top 10 priorities in The Deal 2030, and establishes it as key focus for action.

We live in challenging times for town centres, with changing shopping habits and loss of a number of high street retailers. There is a focus on both Wigan and Leigh town centres as they are the largest centres in the borough and are vital economic and social hubs for the borough. The performance of these centres in particular will drive the economic prospects of the borough as a whole, and they require investment if they are to survive and thrive. However, we are also committed to ensuring our local and neighbourhood centres also thrive. The Council and our partners are working to deliver a wide range of projects that will contribute to enhancing our town centres such as: bringing quality new homes into town centres; addressing vacant sites; and creating opportunities for cycling and walking.

As shopping habits shift online (accelerated by the impact of the current pandemic), there is too much retail space, particularly in larger town centres, and an urgent need to diversify the local offer to provide alternative reasons for people to visit. As the Council owns The Galleries Shopping Centre we have a unique opportunity to drive the redevelopment of Wigan town centre, bringing new homes, a leisure and cultural offer, food and drink, workspace and quality public spaces into the town - investment that will benefit the borough as a whole.

I should clarify, however, that the Council will not be investing £130m in the redevelopment.  A development project of this scale is complex and challenging, which is why we embarked on a procurement process to identify a development partner with the experience, expertise and resources necessary to deliver it.  The Galleries redevelopment is a multi-phase regeneration project which will be funded from a mix of private sector investment, grants and Council funds. The Council is currently working with Galleries25 to establish a financial package that will ensure the best value for money for the Council.

A key consideration of the assessment of all proposals, alongside quality and value for money, was the “social value” that they would deliver. Galleries25 are committed to supporting delivery of the Council’s Community Wealth Building strategy and we will be working closely with them to ensure that the economic benefits are felt locally, throughout the borough, through the creation of jobs, apprenticeships, and spend in local supply chains, amongst other commitments.

The Council has been working on a Leigh Town Centre Strategic Regeneration Framework (SRF) which will set out an ambitious vision and action plan for the town centre (following a similar plan that was published for Wigan in 2019).  Plans to consult the public on this were delayed last year due to the response to COVID-19. The plans have now been reviewed to ensure that they take into account the effects of the pandemic, and public consultation is now planned to commence in February.

Having a strong strategic plan in place will ensure investment is targeted at the right priorities and allow synergies between projects to be realised.  A strategic plan is also essential to demonstrate commitment and ambition to potential funders – both in government and in the private sector. Some of the key areas of focus are: creating a more attractive and greener environment; ensuring that there are a range of good quality homes; improving accessibility; improving health and wellbeing, diversifying the economy; and improving the retail, leisure and cultural offer.

There is already a significant amount of investment taking place in Leigh. The Council has committed £4 million through the Believe in Leigh programme to fund a range of activity to support the town’s regeneration. Investment priorities were announced earlier this year, which reflect the outcome of major consultation exercises and help support the delivery of the SRF. After a brief pause due to the COVID-19 crisis, work has now resumed to progress these projects, which include: enhancing local youth facilities; improvements to Pennington Flash; public realm works at Civic Square; schemes to improve pedestrian connectivity across the town centre (including a canal bridge and a pedestrian crossing to connect housing at West Bridgewater Street with the town centre); and upgrading and future-proofing Leigh Market. As you note, funding has already been invested in improved street lighting and additional CCTV in direct response to concerns raised by residents during consultation.

We are also securing funding to improve pedestrian and cycling links across the borough and this includes a significant amount of funding secured in principle (subject to a further business case approval) to improve pedestrian and cycle infrastructure part of £13.9 million package across Leigh, Tyldesley, Atherton and surrounding areas. This includes a new walking and cycling route linking Pennington Flash to Leigh Sports Village via the town centre.

The Council has also received a £500k grant from the Home Office to address the community safety and cohesion concerns in West Leigh.  A place-based team is undertaking local engagement / cohesion activities and focusing resource on improving the environment and security measures in the area.

There is also a programme of stadium works and modernisation at Leigh Sports Village. Around £229k was spent in the last financial year there is an allocation of £381.6k in the Council’s capital programme this financial year.

In addition, the Council’s planned investment in the Railway Arches sites as well as the Wharfdale site at Henry Street, Leigh amounts to over £13 million in the development at these two sites alone.

This investment in Leigh will improve the quality and offer of the town centre, attracting more visitors and making the town centre more attractive to investment. The Council continues to work in partnership with landowners and developers to facilitate redevelopment of a number of vacant and underused sites for redevelopment. With a strong plan in place this will put us in the best position to take advantage of funding opportunities that arise in the future.

The Council launched the “Our Town” initiative last year which is aimed at celebrating what is special about the borough’s town centres and encouraging people to get involved in the places they live (there is further information about this on Our Town page. Unfortunately, due to the current Covid-19 situation and following national health advice we decided to postpone some elements of the Our Town programme.

The programme was specifically designed to deliver comprehensive improvements to all district centres, through a range of environmental improvements, including “deep cleans”, improvements to shop fronts and investment in public realm, along with support for local events. We intend to restart the programme when circumstances allow.

Through The Deal for Business and the Business Booster Fund, the local authority has supported businesses on many of our district high streets, either financially or by providing advice, networking opportunities and other guidance. Despite the pressures on Council budgets we will continue to provide this support. The Council’s #SupportLocal campaign also focuses on both the high street and new start-up businesses that are operating from home during lockdown. The pandemic has made many people reassess their relationship with local places, and the need to travel to city centres for work and shopping so I do believe that there’s a real opportunity to build on this as we move out of restrictions. 

The Council have supported Tyldesley Forward to secure High Street Heritage Action Zone funding for Tyldesley Town Centre earlier this year and continue to support them to implement a programme of investment which will not only conserve the historic buildings but also revitalise the town centre.

Town centres up and down the country are facing challenges which are the result of complex and inter-related issues – not least the growth of on-line retailing and corresponding decline in footfall and spending in town centre shops. However, we believe that town and local centres should be the heart of the community and I can assure you that we are working hard to secure a bright future for all of our towns and district centres, despite the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in.  Although 2020 has been very challenging in all kinds of ways, these plans signal a bright and exciting future for our borough.

Question Reference Number 864654

Do Wigan Council currently have any plans to:

1) Sell off or asset transfer the tennis courts at Aspull

2) Allow the erection of large metal fencing around the playings at Aspull to restrict public access in order to protect the football pitches

Response from Councillor Nazia Rehman, Portfolio Holder – Resources, Finance and Transformation

We have not received any external requests for either proposal and as a Council, we do not have any disposal plans for the tennis courts or to fence off the playing fields.

The tennis courts are managed / maintained by the Council and the playing fields are managed / maintained, under licence by the local football club.

Both assets are registered common land but are not under Council ownership, the Council manage the tennis courts under a scheme of management, as we did for the playing fields prior to the football club managing / maintaining the asset.

Question Reference Number 864655

Whilst litter is nothing new, I would like to hear comments on the Council's commitment to keeping our borough clean. Living and working, walking and running in the Abram/Platt Bridge/Hindley/Ince areas the state of roads, hedge rows, waste grounds and green spaces is terrible. Reasons and community responsibility notwithstanding, please let me know what plans are in place to tackle this issue. As a member of a local litter picking group in Abram (committed community members out every day making a huge difference) I'd love to similar in all areas, however until that becomes reality, a huge drive on behalf of the council really is desperately needed.

Response from Councillor Paul Prescott – Portfolio Holder – Planning, Environmental Services and Transport

Thank you for your enquiry regarding litter in your local area. As part of The Deal 2030, we have made a commitment to residents that we will aspire towards a litter free borough.

In 2018, the Council carried out the Big Listening Project and spoke to over 6,000 residents about matters that were important to them. There was a very strong sense of pride in our local communities and a determination that littering will not be tolerated in our parks, open spaces and neighbourhoods.

While we understand that this is a huge challenge for the Council and residents, we are currently developing a Litter Strategy which will look at a range of measures to tackle littering in the borough. These measure include ensuring that we have the right litter bin in the right place, educating young people on the impact of littering, developing a campaign to promote local pride amongst all residents, as well as a targeted approach to enforcement action where required. We also see volunteers, such as yourself, as an important part in our approach to keeping the borough clean, tidy and free of litter.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your group for the excellent work you do in supporting our journey towards a litter free borough.

Question Reference Number 864656

I wonder if you can explain why statistics no longer seem to be contained within scrutiny reports and why cabinet members are not asking for statistics so that you can perform proper scrutiny? How can you reassure me as a resident that you have proper oversight in order to undertake the function? Why are you not challenging such omissions?

For example: Report to: Confident Council Scrutiny Committee Date of Meeting(s): Monday, 29 March 2021 Last 12 months: 2.1 Looking back over the last year we have seen an improvement in some crime areas for example, 16 % fall in thefts, 13% fall in burglary and 9% drop in car crime between Nov 2019 and Oct 2020. However, we know drug offences, knife crime, robbery, and anti-social behaviour (ASB) are increasing. We have had increased reports of ASB and neighbour nuisance during the pandemic, and we think this has been driven by more people being at home all day and tensions arising between households

We seem to have the statistics when we are travelling in the right direction but not for the increases. Report to: Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee Date of Meeting(s): Tuesday, 6 April 2021 Subject: Partnership performance in supporting children’s mental wellbeing through COVID Has no real statistics in it.... In Wigan, as nationally, we have seen an increase in the number of children and young people presenting at A&E, and also being admitted to the paediatric ward with mental health issues. 4.11 Locally, in response to the increase in demand for support associated with eating disorders, the system has developed a proposal for a new intermediate care pathway as an alternative to inpatient admissions. 

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

As a Council we monitor performance using both our corporate frameworks (including statutory requirements and directorate performance frameworks) and report upon on a regular basis to the Senior Management Team. This provides the opportunity to flag both positive and poor performance, and trigger action when needed to relevant Council Committees and Strategic Partnerships.

Scrutiny reports from all service areas are reviewed in draft by Chairs of Scrutiny Committees at briefings prior to the agenda publication, to ensure that they fully meet the requirements of each Scrutiny Committee, and when requested, additional information or details are incorporated into reports. The members of the Scrutiny Committees themselves also have opportunity to feed back and the ability to provide opinion on the standard and level of information that they receive via the reports presented to them.

In addition, the relevant Portfolio Holders also provide oversight and direction on the performance reports for their specific area.

Please be assured that the Council’s corporate and directorate frameworks are data driven and these arrangements are regularly reviewed to ensure that these are continually strengthened. Challenge is always at the forefront of the discussion to ensure that the Council is held to account on areas where performance is of concern.

Council performance data is published on the website each year so that residents can see its performance based upon indicators that have been identified locally as important, as well as those which form part of national frameworks and assurance. This information can be found here: How is the Council performing?

Statistics can also be found on partner websites. For example, crime and disorder data can be accessed via the Greater Manchester Police website or Public Health England have produced numerous reports on Health and Social Care which can be accessed using the following link: Overarching profiles

We recognise the need to balance statistical analysis and operational intelligence to ensure effective and informed scrutiny and will always continue to strive to improve our performance and reports.

 

Question Reference Number 864657

Why does Wigan not offer discounts for OAPs at the Leisure Centres. Salford charge £52 per year whereas, Wigan charge £52 PER MONTH. Keep the elderly healthy!

Response from Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder Economic Development and Regeneration / Councillor Jim Moodie - Lead Member for Leisure and Public Health

Thank you for your question about our Be Well Leisure Centre membership prices for older people. From 1st April this year we took the decision to transfer leisure services from Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles back to an in-house council service. We did this to protect our valuable leisure centres and services from the impact of the pandemic on the leisure industry and therefore retain these valuable services for our residents. Making this transfer happen at the same time as responding to the pandemic and re-opening services in line with the government road map has been a significant undertaking - a number of our leisure centres have been vaccination sites or testing sites with staff re-deployed to support these critical services for example. Therefore we have yet to formally review fees and charges that were set by the previous provider. 

We are now reviewing membership prices to meet the needs of our residents including looking at the offer and how it compares across the region.  We are aware of the offer Salford leisure services have for senior members. The investment we have made in our leisure centres over recent years is well regarded across our Greater Manchester and indeed national partners and is something we are proud of. We are confident that a review now of our membership price structure to meet the needs of our residents in line with the quality of our offer will ensure great value for money and support our priority groups to be healthy and well. 

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