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. 

Question Reference Number 864658

I’m a resident of Wigan and live on Poolstock Lane, I wondered if there is any plans to put a pedestrian crossing at the top of Carr Lane, there are traffic lights but no crossing for pedestrians the amount of times there have been near misses from children and adults getting knocked down is scary, they have lollipop people on the crossing on poolstock lane going over towards St. Paul’s but they have pedestrian buttons on those lights so can’t quite understand why they don’t cross children on the part that has no pedestrian button.

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

Thank you for your enquiry requesting improved pedestrian crossing facilities at the junction of Carr Lane and Poolstock Lane. It is an ambition of the Council to implement controlled pedestrian crossing facilities (push buttons) on all arms of this junction, however we do not currently have the funds available to upgrade the existing traffic signals.

We will continue to look out for opportunities to obtain funding in the future.

Question Reference Number 864660

On behalf of Friends of Wigan Town Centre, we have a few questions that relate to the contractual agreement you have entered into with CityHeart and BCEGI on behalf of the residents of Wigan. Our questions relate to finance: 1. Who is putting the money in? - How is this plan being financed? Total amounts from each partner that equates to the £135m 2. What are the conditions attached the this money? Ownership , lease, responsibilities 3.Who is responsible for paying it back? 4. What happens if they default?

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

Redevelopment of the Galleries is a multi-phase regeneration project which will be funded from a mix of private sector investment, Council funds and grants, such as Future High Street funding.

The Council is currently working with its development partner to establish a financial package that will ensure the best value for money for the Council. Different elements of the scheme will require different funding strategies as with a development of this scale not all of the funding can be provided by the Council.

Land interests may be used in order to raise the necessary funding but ownership will ultimately revert back to the Council. This may differ slightly in relation to the residential elements of the scheme which may include open market sales but even then these will probably be on the basis of long leasehold interests with the Council retaining the freehold interest. 

Further details are commercially sensitive.

Question Reference Number 864659

When is Wigan Council going to publish its plans for town and district centres apart from Wigan and Leigh? £130 plus millions for Wigan and over £5 million for Leigh and everywhere else is getting left behind. Why is it always Wigan that is always having money spent on it? People of Wigan borough are getting fed up with always Wigan for everything. New roads, new town centre - it seems to have a blank cheque for Wigan and everywhere else has to suffer so Wigan can have everything it wants. Try doing every other town and district centres first instead of always Wigan.

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

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 council’s corporate strategy The Deal 2030, which establishes it as a key focus for action.

Our borough benefits from having a network of centres – the larger town centres of Wigan and Leigh, but also smaller local centres and neighbourhood centres. All have their own unique character and identities and all are important to our local communities. We want to celebrate and protect the character of each of them, and ensure they are attractive and meet the needs of the communities they serve.

You are correct that there is a focus on Wigan and Leigh town centres. As our largest centres in the borough these centres 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.

We are however, 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.

The Council relaunched the “Our Town” initiative this year having been thwarted last year by the pandemic.  This 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 at Our Town Atherton was the focus in late May / early June this year.

Recognising the challenges facing our local centres and community during the pandemic we launched our “shop local” campaign (#supportlocal) encouraging people to support their local centres and help local independent retailers.

The Council 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.

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.

We are also now exploring the potential for bids to Government from the council for Levelling Up Funding for Atherton and Ashton.

Town centres up and down the country are facing challenges – 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 would like to reassure you that supporting all of our centres is a key priority for the Council.

Question Reference Number 864660

An online system that makes comments on the planning applications difficult for residents might seem to demonstrate that the Council has poor procurement of IT services. The response that other Councils are using the same software would suggest a lack of ‘due diligence’ before the changes to the system were made a.k.a. a lemming response; however this may be unfair to lemmings. The argument for selection of CityHeart as a developer is that they are being used by other Councils; there seems to be a pattern here. If there was a robust case for the development of the Galleries the Cabinet should be able to respond to questions posed via the Councils website. I have submitted a number of questions to the Cabinet in respect to the Galleries Development and been referred by email to the Galleries 25 website FAQ’s and options to ask more questions. As the questions for the FAQ’s and the answers thereto are being set by the developers this is hardly unbiased. As the Cabinet have seemingly abrogated their responsibility for answering questions on the Galleries. My questions asked via the Council website then via the Galleries25 website remain unanswered - and as less FAQ are not published on the website even if they get answered the answers may not be in the public domain. With respect to the comment on the one question on the ‘Ask the Cabinet’ section of the Council’s website relating to the Galleries 8564659 there is a refusal to give further details as these are ‘commercially sensitive’. May I draw your attention to the Local Government Transparency Code 2015. 20.The Government has not seen any evidence that publishing details about contracts entered into by local authorities would prejudice procurement exercises or the interests of commercial organisations, or breach commercial confidentiality unless specific confidentiality clauses are included in contracts. Local authorities should expect to publish details of contracts newly entered into – commercial confidentiality should not, in itself, be a reason for local authorities to not follow the provisions of this Code. Therefore, local authorities should consider inserting clauses in new contracts allowing for the disclosure of data in compliance with this Code. I understand the the Council is pledged to a policy of openness and transparency, yet seems to be obfuscating around the ‘hard facts’ of the development, and interpreting generalised comments collated years ago and more results from a biased survey sponsored by the chosen developer. The above Code was drawn up to give residents confidence in Council machinations and to avoid situations where Councillors put themselves at risk of pushing through undemocratic decisions. You are failing on your own promise to answer and publish the Q&A's to the Cabinet within 10 days and ditto for the Cabinet25 website. It may of course be that you are being deluged by questions on this project and unable to keep up with the answers? it may be that you don’t have the answers? In either scenario this reflects badly on the governance of the Council. Please can we have some openness and transparency on this, the impression being given is that the Cabinet knows what is best for the town and will force through this development pretty much as envisaged by the developer. As a start I would like some relevant and detailed answers to the specific questions I have raised - if you do not have the information, then admit it rather than obfuscate. 

Response on behalf of Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder Economic Development and Regeneration

Thank you for your Ask the Cabinet question(s), I will endeavour to provide you with as much information as is possible, and also an explanation as to why certain information remains commercially sensitive and cannot be shared at this time.

  • The argument for selection of Cityheart.

You suggest that the selection of Cityheart was purely on the basis that they have been used by other Council’s. I would advise you that the Council entered into a robust procurement exercise. Whilst it is always important to understand the ‘trackrecord’ of a developer and how well they have previously performed for similar organisations (in this case Local Authorities) it was a factor that was considered, but did not form part of the evaluation of bids.

In advance of going to the market the Council has to be clear about how it will evaluate any bids and have designed a scoring matrix and identify a panel with relevant understanding and expertise to undertake the evaluation process. The eventual appointment of the successful bidder was based on this robust evaluation methodology and not merely that it was felt they have done work for other Local Authorities.

  • Why the Council has abrogated their responsibility for answering questions, and why your questions remain unanswered

The Council has not and will not abrogate their responsibilities in respect of the scheme. However, it is fact that the Council is working in partnership with Cityheart and in that spirit of partnership working there is a shared ownership of communication with the public, both in terms of making information available,answering question and making the most Frequently Asked Questions available to the general public.

Cityheart do manage the website, but any questions that are received through that media are responded to as a collective where that is appropriate. Some questions are for the Council to reply to as the information is theirs; other questions are within the gift of the Developer to reply to and some questions require a joint response

• Commercial sensitivity and releasing information

When the Council is requested to provide commercially sensitive information, they have to make an assessment. This consideration includes things such as:

  • Do they hold the information?
  • Is the information owned by a third party?
  • Is the information ‘exempt’ and should not be shared at the present time?

The Galleries development is a measure affecting, or likely to affect, the elements of the environment. There, the right of access to this information should therefore be considered under the Environmental Information Request (EIR), rather than under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI).

Under Exception Regulation 12 (5) (f): disclosure would adversely affect the interests of the person or organisation who provided the information, is applicable here. Where information requested has been provided voluntarily by a company/bidder and was paid for and in the ownership of the bidder then the Council would need to seek approval to disclose that information. If the information is commercially sensitive and it would be advantageous to the bidder’s competitors if disclosed and cause harm to the commercial interest of the successful bidder they will not consent for such information to be disclosed.

In consideration of whether the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information the Council accepts that some weight must always be given to the general principle of achieving accountability and transparency through the disclosure of information held by it. This assists the public in their understanding of how the Council makes its decisions and in turn fosters trust in public authorities. In many circumstances the disclosure of recorded information may allow greater public participation in the decision-making process. However, the Council asserts that disclosure of the with held information would weaken its commercial position and lead to its in ability to achieve the best value from the organisations it is working with. This would not be in the interests of the Council’s public purse.

For the Council, withholding requested detailed information is particularly important at a point in time where the information relates to a live development project which is currently only subject to a conditional contract. Disclosure would significantly weaken the Council’s negotiating position in today’s competitive commercial environment and the information could be used to the Council’s disadvantage by potential developers who might be required to engage in a future tendering process if the considerations contained in the contract are not fulfilled.

Weighing the need for transparency and accountability against the requirement for the Council to secure the most advantageous outcome for the project is always part of the consideration before releasing information.

  • Publishing contracts entered into by the local authorities would not prejudice procurement exercises

The Council strives to be transparent and publish as much information as possible in the public domain. However, when the Council enters into contracts with third parties these are generally complex and ordinarily contain commercially sensitive information. Where the commercially sensitive information relates to the third party the Council is not at liberty to disclose that information.

I note that you have suggested that the Council should include clauses that allows them to disclose such information, however, the third parties will not wish to disclose information that could be used by a competitor and this approach would also potentially negatively impact on the Council’s ability to do business on the private sector.

Where the Council can disclose this information, it does so, and it also seek permission/approval from its partners and those it enters into contract with to disclose information. However, if this approval is not forthcoming then the Council cannot disclose the information.

You requested that the Council provide answer to previous question you’ve asked and I will attempt to provide you more information.

  • Given the size and scope of the project, effects of the pandemic and rising concern about climate change – this is not the time to enter into a grand and irreversible scheme. That an alternative smaller scale development can be achieved.

Pandemic and recent changes were recognised as something that may impact on the viability of the proposed scheme. In this context further due diligence activity was undertaken.

Clearly, any developer who is committing to investing heavily in such an important regeneration scheme would wish to undertake due diligence when there had been significant changes such as those brought about by the pandemic. To this end, the preferred developer has undertaken extensive and significant market analysis to determine that there is a demand for the type and level of facilities that the proposal seeks to deliver. This extensive market analysis confirmed that the demand for the proposal remains strong.

Likewise, the Council also wishes to ensure that its investment will deliver the benefits to Wigan town centre and has carefully reviewed the market analysis, which confirmed that the demand for the proposals and ensured that the Council is making wise investment choices

  • Why is the Council prepared to surrender a huge portion of the town centre into this ‘uncontrollable’ private sector?

The arrangements with the Contractor do not ‘surrender’ a huge portion of the town centre. The Council will retain the freehold of the land, and the nature of the partnership is that they will still be involved in certain elements of the scheme/proposals. Other elements will be managed by third parties, but a primary reason for entering a development agreement of this nature is to ensure that the Council retains the ability to influence the redevelopment of the town centre

  • Will the Cabinet be prepared to take into account the public comments?

Throughout the process of developing any plans the Council ensures that they consult with the local communities and seek their views.

It is important to understand that the consultation process in respect of Wigan town centre began well in advance of the conception of the Galleries 25 proposals and it was those consultations that shaped and informed the current plans.

In 2018 Wigan Council spoke to more than 6,000 in 83 locations across the borough to find out what mattered to them as part of the Big Listening Project. In total we received over 10,000 ideas.

The future of our town centres was one of the top priorities identified through the consultation; town centres are important to our residents and they want to see them thrive. The council’s corporate strategy – Deal 2030 – is based on the feedback received through the Big Listening Project, with ‘Vibrant town centres’ set as one of ten key objectives.

Residents told us that they want more leisure opportunities in the town centre that cater for a much wider audience, including families. They also expressed views over having more facilities to promote an ‘evening’ economy, for example – bars, restaurants, a cinema, escape rooms, an ice rink. Lots of people referenced the need for a more“bespoke” offer, including an artisan market and independent shops, cafes and restaurants.

Frequently mentioned throughout the Big Listening Project was the idea of introducing more residential housing in the town centre as a way of keeping it alive both day and night.

Residents also told us they often choose to spend their disposable income outside of the borough for leisure as the offer is not strong enough here. Also, there was recognition that as many people work, the town centre 9-5 offer was not accessible for them.

In 2019 a separate survey exercise took place online and face to face in a vacant shop unit in the Galleries following the launch of the procurement process. The survey launched on 1st November 2019 and ended on 6th December 2019. A total of 710 responses were received.

During this survey, which included open and closed questions, only 11 per cent of those asked were satisfied with the current offer in Wigan town centre.

These results reinforce the earlier comments gathered during the Big Listening Project -supporting the proposals for redevelopment.

Throughout the process the Council has listened and taken resident’s views into consideration. The process of consultation is still ongoing, and comments can be put forward via the Planning Portal and these will be part of the Planning Committee’s consideration when making a decision on the planning application.

  • Why, having launched a Heritage Environment Strategy to some acclaim is the council approving demolition of listed structures and relatively new buildings?

The proposal for the redevelopment of the Galleries does not involve demolition of any listed structures.

In respect of the demolition of buildings that is proposed as part of the redevelopment, my response to your questions on sustainability include information the development aspect of their proposal.

Finally, in your previous email you also made reference to the Cabinet having the legal responsibility for the decision and it will brook no debate in open Council. The link to the Full Council Meeting held on 21st July 2021 provided you with both the comments and the request  to debate in Full Council and Cllr Prescott’s reply.

For completeness I thought it would be helpful for you to have an explanation in writing also why the matter cannot be discussed in Full Council. This is as follows:

  • By law (the Local Government Act 2000) a Council has to have a committee or executive style structure. Wigan Council has opted to have an Executive style of administration. The Executive (or Cabinet as it is known) has power laid down by statute and the Constitution. By virtue of S37 of the Local Government Act 2000a Council is required to have and maintain a Constitution.
  • The Executive has power to make all decision on the day to day running of the council, including contracts, that are not required by law to be made by other committees/panels of the members. Regulations made under the 2000 Act reserve decision on quasi-judicial matters e.g., planning or licensing to be made by members other than Cabinet.
  • Lawfully, only Cabinet can make the decision required on the Galleries project at the moment. To pass the decision to Council for these decisions would be unlawful.

Question Reference Number 864661

It is not acceptable for the Cabinet to deflect all questions on the development to the Galleries25 website. These are Questions directly for the Cabinet, not for the developer, they are not covered in the FAQ or the information already provided by the developer, is this because the information is not available:

a) Because the research has not been done?

b) Because although the finished product may be carbon neutral the loss of embedded carbon is greater than the potential saving in running cost over the projected life of the project?

c) Some other reason?

These questions and the answers there to should have informed the Cabinets decision and have been a cornerstone of their 'due diligence' in accepting the developers proposal. With respect to the proposed Galleries development What is the carbon cost of the development? The Ridge Report - Sustainability Statement on the Councils website is an overview and does not provide any of the underlying data for claims made, the body of the text reveals that they are basing claims on aspirations and that data will only be available once ‘ detailed plans’ are known. This limits the value of it’s conclusions.

Has a whole life carbon assessment been made for the the existing structure and for each phase of the new development - if so why have these not been made available to the public ? Given that the existing structure is only 30 years old and is being considered for demolition - at the time of construction what was the expected life for the Galleries? If this is not seen as relevant due to changes in circumstances - What is the expected minimum life (lives) for each phase of the proposed development ? What will be the carbon footprint incurred by demolition of the Galleries and the indicated recycling process of brick, concrete and steel. What will be the energy cost of disposing of waste materials generated in the process of demolition? RIBA Royal Institute of British Architects latest viewpoint (2021) is expressed here.

It clearly expresses the view on page 9, that the re-use of existing buildings has a significant carbon saving compared to demolition and rebuilding. The major proportion of the energy cost is incurred in the building process (aka embodied carbon). RICS - Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors - Whole life carbon assessment for the built environment.

Wigan Council Historic Environment Strategy - Page 32 Sustaining the future through the past. This also suggests re-purposing rather than demolition and new building. 

Response on behalf of Councillor David Molyneux – Executive Leader and Portfolio Holder Economic Development and Regeneration

Thank you for your recent Ask the Cabinet question. I note that you were unhappy with the Council’s approach of directing you to the FAQs on the Galleries website, so will try to provide you with a fuller explanation.

The information below sets out the questions and the Council’s responses:

Has a whole life carbon assessment been made for the existing structure?

  • The Developer has submitted two Ridge Reports - an Energy Strategy document and a Sustainability Statement report, which covers their carbon assessment of the existing structures. Their assessment looks at the carbon impact of the development overall, and the alternative options of retaining and upgrading a proportion of the existing buildings was reviewed. It was concluded that as well as providing accommodation not suitable for the perceived future use, with lower levels of daylight, acoustics and flexibility of use, the operational emissions of any retained elements would be significantly higher than those proposed due to limitations in fabric and air permeability. It was therefore concluded that the overall development’s carbon impact would be greater with a higher degree of retained building stock.
  • I have attached copies of both documents (which are available on the Planning Portal). The Energy Strategy follows accepted methodologies for calculating the predicted carbon emissions of each building, based on specific values input to a model. The document notes that they are based on the level of detail available at the design stage that the buildings are at (RIBA Stage 2). This is what would be expected at planning application stage, and the Council would have no basis to require a more detailed design or assessment. Furthermore, it is the case that a significant portion of the site is subject to an outline planning application only. Mechanisms are available in the planning system to commit the development to achieve at least the levels of performance referred to in the Energy Statement.

Given the existing structure is only 30 years old, why is it being considered for demolition?

  • When the Council invited the market to tender for the redevelopment of the Galleries, they did not specify demolition. The general view from all bidders was that it was not possible to convert the whole site, which is difficult to navigate and difficult to convert. As the Council’s FAQ page makes clear – the proposal is not about whole sale demolition of the site, and there are elements which are to be retained. Some of the explanation in the response to the first question (above) also provides information in relation to the developer’s considerations when considering whether or not to retain existing buildings.

What is the expected minimum life (lives) for each stage of the proposed development?

  • The Developer has advised that all buildings have a minimum life of 30 years, but they are seeking to create elements which will last for many years after that.

What will be the carbon footprint incurred by demolition of the Galleries and the indicated recycling process of brick, concrete and steel?

  • Details of the demolition carbon footprint are provided and measured as part of the planning pack and are detailed within the Energy Strategy document.

What will be the energy cost of disposing of waste materials generated in the process of demolition?

  • The material resulting from the demolition is going into the basement, and again, this is incorporated in the Energy Strategy document and also in the Sustainability Statement provided on the planning portal. I must draw your attention to the fact that this is still a live planning application and under consideration. None of the explanations that the Council or City heart may give are to betaken as representing the Local Planning Authority’s position.

Question Reference Number 864662

I have recently made enquiries regarding an allotment in Leigh, specifically Lilford Park, as this is the only allotment area I am aware of in Leigh. I have just been informed I have been added to a waiting list of over 110 people. Does the Council intend to address the shortfall of plots available in the Leigh area anytime soon?

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

To help meet the demand for allotments, the Council adopted an Allotment Strategy in 2018, the strategy recommended the Council introduced a ‘mixed economy’ management model for allotment provision.

Whilst delivering new sites is desirable, the allotment budget is not significant, however the cost to build and create new allotment sites is considerable. The mixed economy approach allows the Council, its partners and 3rd sector groups to make best use of the current allotment portfolio.

As part of this mixed economy, the allotments in Pennington Hall Park have been leased under a Community Asset transfer to a third sector organisation who will be able to increase capacity and provide community food growing opportunities.

The allotment site on Wardour Street is also the subject of a Community Asset Transfer application, the site is currently under developed and has the capacity to accommodate an additional 34 plots.

As well as working with third sector groups on Community Asset Transfers, the Council is also directly increasing capacity within the allotment portfolio. Improvements are currently taking place on the Factory St West allotments site to increase capacity by sub-dividing extremely large plots into more manageable sized plots. A similar exercise is due to commence on the allotment site off Edna Road, improvements to both sites will see an increase in the number of available allotments.

Through the allotment strategy, the Council is committed to delivering an allotment service that offers clear health and wellbeing opportunities, that aligns to the Deal 2030 and fulfils the Council’s statutory duty.

Question Reference Number 864663

Are there any plans to build a skate park in Leigh, maybe on Pennington Flash? I have a very active boy who loves to BMX, but have to travel out of town to visit a BMX park. Also this will help keep the youths active and out of trouble.

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

Thank you for your enquiry regarding the potential to have a BMX skate park within the Leigh area.

The Council’s Corporate Land Management team are currently undertaking a feasibility study, to establish a suitable site within the Leigh area to accommodate a BMX skate park, and are looking to secure funding subject to an approved business case.

Question Reference Number 864664

I am one of the unfortunate dozen people denied entry to the Council meeting at the Edge. It has been reported that Councillor Paul Prescott argued that as only 5000 people had signed a petition against the proposed development (note the proposed rather than any) and using the logic that there are around 321,000 people who did not sign a petition then the majority of Wigan citizens are pro the development as proposed.

This followed a lot of creative accounting to suggest that the plans were conditioned by the Big Listening Project then when this was, after the release of the raw data following a FOI request, found to be untrue. From the evidence all of the ‘suggestions’ in line with the CityHeart proposals came from within the planning department and other Council departments rather than ordinary citizens. Paul Prescott got 1632 votes from an electorate of 10290 - less than 16% of citizens of Pemberton and less than 0.5% of the citizens of the borough clearly under his logic he does not have a mandate to take significant decisions on behalf of all citizens.

There is a real problem that few Wiganers engage in local politics which seems to suit the elected representatives. The vote demonstrated that councillors and specifically the Cabinet, despite all the hype, are not prepared to engage in meaningful community engagement.

It was particularly shocking that the Labour majority in the Council voted not to allow a moratorium to enable true engagement with the community when the evidence was that the majority of identified stakeholders consulted were against the development as proposed. It showed a high degree of tribal behaviour not to consider the proposal as it came from an opposition source. There has been no evidence brought forward to show any community support for the development. If the Council had been confident that the proposal would stand up to public scrutiny they would have had the opportunity to validate this.

If the project goes ahead as planned then this will effectively kill remaining retail in the town centre. This will increase the carbon footprint of the borough as people have to travel further to out of town retail parks - e.g. Robin Park, Gemini Retail, Middlebrook etc. to where many of the town centre retailers have migrated. The loss of convenient under cover car park space is a further disincentive for people to visit Town Centre retail.

The project by it’s own admission will have a significant negative effect on Climate Change over the next 20 years. This is without any assessment of the increase in pollution from home deliveries and that from frequent trips to outlying retail parks. At this stage in the process the Cabinet hold the authority to review the relevance of the project in line with current circumstances, If for example the regeneration of Marketgate preceded the demolition of the Market then, assuming compliance from the market traders these could be relocated rather than being cut off from the rest of the town by a demolition site.

Please rethink this a major project and should follow an evolutionary process rather than the irreversible slash and burn proposed.

Response on behalf of Councillor Paul Prescott – Portfolio Holder – Planning, Environmental Services and Transport

Having liaised with Democratic Services who are responsible for the administering of the Council meeting, they have advised that only 24 spaces are usually available within the Public Gallery at the Town Hall to observe a Council meeting. At meeting at The Edge, there were approximately 35 seats made available to the public, with these being allocated on a first come, first served basis – with notices placed in several areas around the entrance to the building to advise of this.

In relation to the suggestion that the Council has engaged in creative accounting in respect of the Big Listening Project - the Council has and always will, seek to engage the public in developing plans for the Borough, including the various Town Centres. This was the purpose of the Big Listening Project and later, the Town Centre Survey. However, these exercises did not and were never intended to comprise formal public consultation on the Galleries redevelopment, nor was there any statutory requirement for such consultation. While the Big Listening Project did inform some of the thinking that went into the tender documents, to be presented to the market when seeking a development partner for the redevelopment, that was not its main purpose. Further, the tender documents were also developed with regards to the Wigan Town Centre Strategic Regeneration Framework, advice from the Council’s consultants and in recognition of the need, not least due to the availability of funding, for the scheme to be attractive to the market.

Formal public consultation on the redevelopment was always intended to be conducted as part of the planning process and after the appointment of the preferred development partner. It was only at the stage of seeking planning approval that there was a detailed viable scheme that could be presented to the public for consideration and upon which they would be, and were, invited to comment.

We disagree with the suggestion that the development will “kill the remaining retail in the town centre”. It is clear that that there has been a steady decline in retail over a number of years due to pressures of online retail, and these challenges have increased since the pandemic. Consolidating the retail core around Standishgate, bringing the Market into the retail core, and attracting a more diverse range of uses including hotel, offices and residential will provide more reasons to visit and create sustainable footfall. This will provide a stronger and more cohesive town centre that will support adjacent businesses and create new opportunities.

A variety of options were considered for the market during the works, and we know that having to provide an interim relocation would have had a significant impact on the traders. Work is being done to minimise the impact and ensure it can remain fully functional, receives increased promotion and a support package has been offered to the market traders.

Finally, the position on parking and climate change (eg. carbon assessment) have been explained in a previous response on this page.


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