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 therefrom. 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.

 

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