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Toxic rents and online competition are turning Wigan into a ghost town


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One of Britain’s largest city centers has been so badly hit by store closures that some women say they have ‘nowhere to even buy a bra’.

The astonishing claim in Wigan follows the closure of stores including a Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, BHS, H&M and Next in recent years.

Shopping streets across the country have been hit by a toxic combination of rising rents and corporate rates, internet competition – and claims of corporate greed that have led to store closures.

Wigan’s largest shopping centre, The Grand Arcade, which only opened in 2007, is half empty, while a second center has closed completely pending a £130 million redevelopment

Wigan also suffers from its proximity to the city centers of Manchester and Liverpool and the out-of-town Trafford Centre.

There is only one small women’s boutique left in the city of Greater Manchester, specializing in smart outerwear and party wear. The other option, the Primark, is, the locals say, “for the little ones.”

The large shopping centre, the Grand Arcade, opened in 2007 but is half empty, while a second center has closed completely pending a £130 million redevelopment.

The city’s fate – famous for pies, Northern Soul music and rugby league, and with streets lined with historic buildings – was highlighted in a recent post on Mumsnet’s social media site.

An anonymous author told how Wigan ‘lost Debenhams, Next, Marks and Spencer, H&M, Body Shop, Central Post Office, game shops, cafes, all the restaurants, health food stores, most of the pubs, the huge market, several banks, nightclubs. , bookstores, many charity shops and all its high-end hair salons’.

She added: ‘These have been replaced by pop-up eyebrow/eyelash parlors, fast food outlets, pound shops, phone unlock shops, Cash Converter type shops, Primark (the only remaining clothing store), Iceland. The rest is boarded up.’

The woman continued: ‘I can’t understand how it got so bad. Why did everything just die? It used to be so bl**dy alive’.

The post was commented on more than 400 times, with people sharing concerns about high street shopping across the country and calling for action on parking fees, business fees and getting internet shops to pay fair taxes.

In Wigan, Janet Dickinson, who runs Lady Designer Wear, the last women’s boutique in the city center, said: ‘Ladies come in here and say they can’t even get a bra.’

'Just for the little ones': Lady Designer Wear owner Janet Dickinson (left) says the closures have taken a heavy toll on older shoppers

‘Just for the little ones’: Lady Designer Wear owner Janet Dickinson (left) says the closures have taken a heavy toll on older shoppers

The Primark, her customers tell her, is just “for the little ones.” She added: ‘The chains are all pulling out and we don’t have a supermarket – the ones in the city center are all closed. We still have many banks, but they have limited opening hours.

“The post office has moved to WH Smith, but it’s closed. Now it’s in a small unit and unless you knew it was there you wouldn’t know where to find it.’

The 63-year-old, who has had her brightly colored shop in the Royal Arcade for 26 years, said she survived thanks to online sales, adding: ‘I don’t know what the answer is. If they made parking free it would attract more people, but there has to be something to prevent this from happening.’

Neil Pyke, 54, owner of Kath’s Haberdashery Store, said, “The town needs a lift. If it continues like this, it will die on its feet.’

He was optimistic about the redevelopment plans that led to the closure of the Galleries shopping center.

The center and the open-air market – opened by Princess Diana in 1991 – will be replaced by flats, restaurants, a hotel and a cinema. There are only four stalls left on the market. He said, ‘By city flats, more people will go shopping.’

Issues such as high corporate rates led to the exodus of chains, several of which are now in Robin Park, next to the rugby and football stadium, he said.

He said some small restaurants exist, but the new developments could bring bigger, more expensive restaurants and a few chains.

Competition: Wigan suffers due to proximity to Manchester and Liverpool city centers and out-of-town Trafford Center

Competition: Wigan suffers due to proximity to Manchester and Liverpool city centers and out-of-town Trafford Center

Jeweler Bill Allan, who moved to the Victorian Makinson Arcade after losing his Manchester property during the 1996 IRA bombing, defended the city, saying: ‘Although the chains have moved, there are still plenty of independent shops.

‘My big argument with the municipality is the lack of communication with companies and there has to be improvement for older buyers. There’s nowhere to sit and no public toilets.’

Local resident David Smith, 70, a retired graphic designer, blames growing reliance on internet shopping during Covid, plus high corporate rates.

He said: ‘People have shunned city centers like the plague and business rates and taxes have certainly been a factor. It makes me very sad.’

Anne Jennion, 73, said: ‘There’s nothing here now. The only shops are for young people.’

Aidan Thatcher, director of the Wigan Council for Growth and the Economy, said: ‘We are investing significantly in the redevelopment of The Galleries and the wider city centre.’

The municipality added that it is making efforts to market the city, including at a national real estate conference last month, and is offering free parking on weekends.

Meanwhile, a £1.3 million government-funded project will see King Street, home to the Royal Court Theatre, bars and nightclubs, upgraded to make the most of its beautiful historic buildings.

Wigan’s Labor MP Lisa Nandy, shadow secretary of Leveling Up, believes austerity measures are partly to blame as the council has faced “the third worst budget cuts of any local government in the country”.

She said: ‘We have great companies, great council and incredible people who have done great things despite everything the government has done to us, but we could do so much more with a government that matched our ambition and was willing to support us. to provide. U.S.’

But a spokesperson for the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities said Wigan will receive grants, including £16 million for The Galleries scheme, and will be eligible for the second round of grants from the £4.8 billion Leveling Up scheme. government fund.

A 50 percent reduction in business rates was temporarily implemented in the shopping streets this financial year.

A spokesperson added: ‘Our Leveling and Regeneration Act, which is being tabled by Parliament, will kick-start the regeneration of city centers in every corner of the UK, helping local leaders to ensure that vacant properties and shops are filled. , creating new nodes for local businesses. and community groups.”

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