From their stalls on Wigan Market, traders’ views on a controversial redevelopment of the town are captured in words and pictures by Ryan Ashcroft
It’s a familiar story across towns in the North but how it plays out in detail matters. Wigan Council wants to redevelop its town centre to bring back footfall after the collapse of the high street but traders fear being sidelined.
In 2020, Wigan Council appointed Galleries25 – a joint venture between Cityheart and Beijing Construction Engineering Group International (BCEGI) – for a £130 million redevelopment of the Galleries Shopping Centre.
The council believes there is too much retail space in town and “can’t afford to do nothing about it, especially in the current financial climate”.
The Galleries is at the heart of the doing. The council bought the shopping centre in 2018 and wants to turn it into 464 new homes, a 150-room hotel and a centre for a cinema, events, mini-golf and a bowling alley. There will be a new food hall and a landscaped public square.
With work due to start next month, the current market hall is to be demolished and a new one built on the Marketgate part of the site. The council says its location was suggested by traders in consultations and it will front on to Wigan’s main thoroughfare, Standishgate. It says its Big Listening Project in 2018 showed support for the redevelopment.
The market traders will not be moved until the new hall is completed in 2024 and Aidan Thatcher, Wigan Council’s director of economy and skills, says all of them will be offered space.
“The redevelopment of the Galleries Shopping Centre and Market Hall is a significant opportunity to regenerate and repurpose Wigan town centre for the benefit of local businesses, residents and visitors based on current and future high street trends,” says Thatcher.
“The market is an important asset in our town centre and will be a focal point of the new development.”
But there has been vocal opposition to the plans. Some traditional market traders fear they are being relegated to a corner of the development, with the possibility of fewer available units, while the main focus will be on a gentrified food and drink operation. They also fear the demolition and construction process itself will damage their business.
Wigan Local History and Heritage Society says the Galleries match the town environment and should be repurposed, not demolished. And in an added twist, there has been criticism of the choice of BCEGI for the development, because of the poor human rights record of its owner, the Chinese state.
Here, photo-journalist Ryan Ashcroft goes to market.
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