Summary

In December 2020, Wigan Council appointed Galleries25 – a joint venture partnership between Cityheart and Beijing Construction Engineering Group International (BCEGI) – as their Strategic Development Partner for the circa £130 million redevelopment of the Galleries Shopping Centre in Wigan. The redevelopment aims to provide a vibrant new retail, leisure and residential scheme in the heart of the town centre, with landscaped public realm square and room for 460 car parking spaces.

Since December Wigan Council has been working closely with Galleries25 to establish a more detailed plan. In May, a pre-planning consultation launched – giving traders, retailers and members of the public the opportunity to have their say before the plan goes to planning committee in Autumn. If the plan is approved by councillors, then we hope to start on site in early 2022.

Will this actually happen?

In short, yes. We simply can’t afford to do nothing, especially in the current financial climate.

When Wigan Council bought the Galleries, the intention was never to buy the complex and continue managing it as a retail outlet. It was acquired to enable the redevelopment of Wigan town centre and to create a more sustainable model for the future.

Shopping habits have changed and there is now too much retail space in Wigan town centre. People want new reasons to visit. The redevelopment of The Galleries will enable some of the surplus retail space to be repurposed to bring arts, leisure, housing, culture, food, independent shops, craft and makers into the town.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues and if we do nothing, we risk the future of Wigan town centre.

Why have you chosen Cityheart and BCEGI to deliver the scheme?

This is the biggest transformational regeneration scheme the council has embarked on and the Galleries25 team were selected as development partners because they developed a strong masterplan and demonstrated their ability to deliver it.

A development project of this scale is complex and challenging and requires a development partner with the experience, expertise and resources necessary to deliver it.  Cityheart and BCEGI are both UK based, with a proven track record of delivering complex regeneration schemes.

There are strict procurement processes that we have had to adhere to to identify a preferred development partner for a scheme of this scale. We embarked on an open, intensive and robust process called “competitive dialogue”.  Subject to due diligence on financial standing and professional expertise the process is open to any company.

Cityheart and BCEGI were one of 4 bidders to compete in the outline solutions stage – three bidders then progressed to put forward detailed solutions. Proposals were assessed on the basis of quality, cost and social value and Cityheart and BCEGI scored strongly under all themes. They were selected on the basis of the quality of the offer but also very much on the strength of their Community Wealth Building commitments.

Cityheart and BCEGI have made some very strong commitments to ensuring that the benefits are felt locally. 40% of recruitment will be within the borough and 60% from the north west.  £52m will be spent within the local supply chain.  We will work with local companies to ensure that they’re able to access the opportunities that the redevelopment presents.

Has the plan for redevelopment been finalised? What are the timescales?

The masterplan was developed through dialogue with the Galleries25 team during the process to identify a development partner.

The current masterplan has been shaped by consultation and engagement with the public, retailers and traders.

A planning application was submitted in June and is scheduled to be heard in Autumn. If approved, it is envisaged that work will start on site in early 2022, with completion of the scheme in 2025.

Why can’t you use the existing building, rather than demolishing it?

At the outset when the Council invited the market to tender for the redevelopment of the Galleries and come up with proposals, they did not specify demolition. The general view from all bidders was that it was not possible to convert the whole site, which was difficult to navigate and difficult to convert.

To be clear, we are not talking about wholesale demolition and there are elements which are to be retained, these include:

  • Makinson Arcade
  • Marketgate, and
  • Woodcock Square, which will be retained and enlarged so it can be used for events.

No listed buildings will be demolished as part of the development and in line with our Heritage Environment Strategy, we will look to conserve and celebrate key heritage assets across the town centre. A wider piece of work called ‘Heritage Action Zone’, which will bring unused historical buildings back to life, is underway on King Street and will complement The Galleries project once complete.

The current layout of the shopping centre does not work, with large spaces vacant and unused. Building a new scheme with a flexible and accessible space with improved connectivity across the town centre, will help to attract more visitors. In addition, the new development has been designed to be far more environmentally sustainable than the existing centre, with ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic units helping us to save 1,530 tonnes of carbon a year – helping us to contribute towards our ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2038 or sooner. Electrical vehicle charging will be provided throughout, and cycle storage units will support our sustainable travel ambitions.

How is this being funded?

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.

What market testing has been done to check demand is there for a scheme like this?

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.

The plans seem to show the removal of a lot of retail space. What does this mean for existing retailers and traders in The Galleries?

Whilst the scheme will reduce the overall amount of retail space within the town, retail will remain an important part of the Wigan town centre offer. Currently, there are lots of empty retail units and a whole section of the galleries is closed off, which isn’t the best use of space. We are engaging all retailers on a one-to-one basis to discuss options, to either locate in the redeveloped Galleries or elsewhere in the town.

A more diverse offer, including housing, leisure, culture, food and drink and work space, will benefit existing retailers by bringing more footfall and custom to the town.

Where will the permanent new market be and how will traders be accommodated?

The new market will be located at Marketgate. This location was suggested by a number of traders during consultation meetings due to its central location, fronting onto Wigan’s main thoroughfare, Standishgate and its proximity to public transport routes.

The market itself will be part of a diversified new market hall offer, including a food hall, café, co-working and workshop space and winter gardens. The redeveloped market is a flagship component of the scheme.

As with retailers, the Galleries25 team will engage directly with traders on a one-to-one basis to discuss the redevelopment plans as they progress.

How many stalls will there be?

The intention is that there will be a mixture of market trading stalls, but also other new retail opportunities. The exact number and configuration are still being designed in discussion with one-to-one sessions with staff, existing traders and prospective new traders. The focus will be on curating a good quality modern offer which meets the needs of Wigan residents of all ages.

Will there still be an outdoor market?

A potential location for a temporary outdoor market during the redevelopment is currently being explored. Longer term there will be external retail opportunities within the new Woodcock Square and in front of the New Market Hall, the detail of which will be confirmed in due course.

Who will operate the market?

The market will be operated by a private operator, with the expertise and resources to help manage it successfully. This model has been adopted in other areas and helps bring in new tenant groups and mixes to complement existing market offers.

How can all of this still happen during Covid-19 and can we afford it?

The council’s commitment to supporting residents, businesses and communities throughout the pandemic has not and will not waiver as a result of this announcement.

Doing nothing is not an option. Shopping habits have changed: there is too much retail space in the town centre and we need to give people new reasons to come into our towns. People want to see arts, leisure, housing, culture, food, independent shops, craft and makers introduced. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated and intensified the trends facing our high streets, and the need for intervention is greater than ever.

What about our other town and district centres?

Wigan Council has been consulting on a Strategic Regeneration Framework (SFR) for Leigh.

Similar to the Wigan SRF, the Leigh framework will set out a clear set of priorities for Leigh town centre, guiding council investment and enabling us to bid for further resources and investment from partners.

The local authority also understands the importance of local high-streets within communities and through The Deal for Business and the Business Booster Fund, many businesses on district high streets have been supported either financially or by providing advice, offering networking opportunities and other guidance.

Despite the pressures on council budgets, this support will continue.

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 there’s a real opportunity to build on this as we move out of restrictions.

The borough’s Our Town initiative has just relaunched, which will deliver improvements to all district centres through a range of environmental changes including cleaning, improvements to shop fronts and investment in public realm, along with support for local events.

How have you engaged people?

In 2018 Wigan Council spoke to more than 6,000 residents in 83 locations across the borough to find out what matters to them as part of the Big Listening Project. In total we received more than 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 more bars/restaurants/cinema, escape rooms, 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.

I can’t access the planning portal; how can I submit my views?

We regret that people have encountered difficulties in accessing the online system for commenting on planning applications.  We can, however, confirm that the system has been operating correctly throughout the period in question, and the Council has received comments through this system on numerous other applications during this time.

We believe that some users have not been aware that the system is not linked to the MyAccount system, and we have ensured that the website clearly states this and that users are signposted to the online User Guide which explains how to register.

The online system used by the Council is used by a large number of authorities throughout the country.  As well as supporting the efficient delivery of services by automating the handling of comments, the system is also an important means of providing transparency in the planning system, since it allows users to see instantly all the comments that have been made on a particular application.  If someone wishing to comment on an application does not have access to the internet, the Council would normally encourage them to seek help from friends or family, or alternatively to access the support that is available in Council buildings.  The Council also provides assistance to residents through its “Tech Mates” scheme, which aims to build residents’ confidence and skills in accessing services digitally – this can of course help them with many tasks in their lives, not just in dealing with the Council.

We wish to reassure residents that there is still ample time to comment on the planning application – a decision is not due until the Autumn, and comments can be accepted up to the point that the application is considered by Planning Committee.  If new or amended plans are submitted, these will be published on the website, and there will be a further round of public consultation, including notifications sent to everyone who received letters the first time.

How will information regarding the redevelopment be communicated?

We will continue to hold regular briefings for key stakeholders, including retailers, traders and staff throughout the redevelopment process. These will be scheduled at key points in the scheme to ensure access to the latest news and information. Residents and visitors will be communicated to via press releases, newsletters and Borough Life.

A number of planning consultation sessions have taken place, including a pre-application consultation giving the wider public the opportunity to comment on the proposals before they go to planning committee in Autumn.

We will also engage specifically with retailers as part of the consultation and the feedback we receive will inform the development of an application.

The dedicated website – www.galleries25.com will also be updated on a regular basis and you can send us any questions via the site.

(updated 5th August 2021)