HEATON GROUP // ©Andy Ford

John Heaton says his firm has the track record to make a success of the scheme. Credit: Andy Ford via Viva PR

Heaton’s £180m Wigan ‘village’ aims to reinvent town

For four decades, the former Eckersley Mill complex in Wigan has lain derelict. Now, after years of speculation over what would come of it, Heaton Group is embarking on a mission to transform it into Cotton Works, a vibrant new quarter for the town.

Located less than 10-minutes walk from Wigan’s two train stations, the 15-acre Eckersley Mill complex presents a massive opportunity to deliver something impactful in Wigan.

Heaton Group acquired the site in 2021 but John Heaton, the company’s Wigan-born managing director, said things could have been very different.

“I wasn’t interested at first,” he said. “I was always told never to buy a church, a pub, or a mill.”

Five years after first looking around the site, Heaton has changed his tune.

“It has got a grip of me, I am excited about it,” he said.

“It is not just a tall block of apartments, it is something different. We are creating a destination.”

Maryland Securities sold the site to Heaton Group. The former landlord had flattered to deceive when it came to pulling the trigger on its own plans for the plot, one of the largest brownfield opportunities in Greater Manchester.

Maryland secured approval in 2010 to redevelop the area but never did. 14 years on, John Heaton is determined that there will be no more false dawns.

“I have been in this game a long, long time and I understand it,” he said.

“I have walked every inch of this site and spent a lot of money [on it]. I would not [do that] if I did not think it was right.”

Eckersley Mill , Heaton Group, c PNW

The ground floor of Mill One will become a food hall in the style of Altrincham Market. Credit: Place North West

Heaton wants to deliver just shy of 1,000 homes across five new-build blocks as well as converting the enormous Mill Three into apartments in a bid to address what he calls a “massive shortage” of homes in the town.

However, before the homes are delivered, the plan is to transform the site into a destination in its own right.

A 22,000 sq ft food hall – think Altrincham Market – is due to open on the ground floor of Mill One next year, while up top, Heaton Group plans to deliver what it is billing as “Wigan’s first rooftop bar”.

The developer will manage both in-house; the managing director believes retaining control of the venues is the best way to set high standards -“It has to be right,” he said.

Branching out into hospitality is a big step and by no means a walk in the park. Heaton Group has already dipped its toe with Feast at the Mills, a pop-up drinking and dining destination.

This venue, which breathes life into Eckersley Mills at weekends, is providing the developer with a platform to get to know the food and drink game before it takes on the running of two permanent hospitality venues.

As well as attracting visitors, Heaton hopes Cotton Works will give Wiganers a reason to stay in the borough.

Why would they bother with the 45-minute train journey to maybe get a table at Mackie Mayor in Manchester if they have something just as good on their doorstep?

Feast at Eckersley Mill, Heaton Group, c PNW

Feast at the Mills is currently activating the site on weekends. Credit: Place North West

“The site will have everything that Manchester or Liverpool has but in one place so you don’t have to walk across town in the rain,” Heaton said. “It is a village we are creating.”

As if to demonstrate his faith in the project, Heaton will relocate his company’s own headquarters to Mill One, which will feature around 70,000 sq ft of offices across three floors.

What is good enough for Wigan’s biggest developer is also good enough for one of the borough’s biggest employers; energy infrastructure firm Calisen has agreed terms on an entire 20,000 sq ft floor.

Later phases of the project will feature apartments within the mammoth Mill Three, the new-build residential blocks, a leisure complex that includes a new home for Wigan’s famous roller rink, and plans for restaurants and a hotel.

Such is its scale and ambition, Heaton Group’s Cotton Works forms a huge part of Wigan’s efforts to retain existing residents, attract new ones, and emerge from the doldrums with renewed swagger.

Greater Manchester’s towns have no choice but to reinvent themselves for the post-retail world. If they don’t, residents will up sticks and the places they leave will have no chance of a rebirth.

Some of the schemes being proposed across the city region’s 10 boroughs will be a success and some will fail but we will not know unless we try.

In Wigan, there will be cynics for whom the idea of posh food halls and high-end apartments is destined to fail. Meanwhile, others are yet to be convinced that any of the proposals will actually come to fruition.

However, Heaton Group is reporting genuine excitement in the town about what Cotton Works could bring.

“I have got people coming up to me shaking my hand and saying thank you,” Heaton said.

“Some people are used to disappointment,” he said. “We are changing that and turning the corner.”

Eckersley Mills, Heaton Group, p Viva

The scheme will feature a leisure hub and a new home for Wigan Roller Rink. Credit: via Viva

Your Comments

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Personally I think this is a great idea. It’s in a fantastic location and will be an additional asset to Wigan which will help it grow in the future


It’s truly fantastic to see someone have some serious ambition for Wigan’s regeneration. The town centre (as per many towns of its size) goes through the inevitable 30 year cycle of tearing everything down to be replaced with generic buildings (which seem to have less architectural value with each passing scheme). This however is making use of assets that other towns could only dream of – This has the potential to be a destination place (along with the pier), I hope it has every success.

By Anonymous

This could be transformative and could really change the towns fortune if done well. Great to see some the developer has taken a contextual approach to this proposal. I would recommended they view The Phoenix on a former industrial site in Lewes, East Sussex as I see quite a few parallels.

By Anonymous

Great news Heaton can’t wait to come and see what a great difference you are doing for Wigan. Well Done just what Wigan needed. 👏👏👏

By Liz

This looks amazing !! I am so excited as wigan dose need a vamp. Years I was coming here. Now I live here ,in the past years has lost its life ( just not the same ) I am positive this will help wigan an bring visitors back to enjoy wigan again . It is a good place to be .

By Anonymous

It sounds a great idea . I worked there in the 70’s and it’s been sad to see what had become of the mill since. What I Don’t understand is why the council has demolished the centre of town to build a smaller version

By David Leatherbarrow

At last something positive for the town – goes to show how something well thought out can regenerate an area in a relatively short time – compare this to the current council “development” in the town centre.
Hopefully when people see what Eckersley’s has become they will turn their eye to Pagefield mill near the park which could be another asset to the town.
Well done on this project but bear in mind you need to keep to Wigan prices and not city centre inflated.

By Fitz

What a truly inspirational plan being put forward by Mr John Heaton. This can only bring about positive outcomes for the whole of Wigan but in particular that of The Wigan Pier Quarter. Living opposite to the proposed development, inTrencherfield Mill, I am happily able to observe the rapid pace of progress at Mill 1.
The footfall this will generate in years to come will undoubtedly bring about an economic boost for our town and perhaps this may bring about a reigniting of the stalled Wigan Pier development and possibly may also provide some motivation for bringing the world famous Trencherfield Steam engine back into service (in steam).
Great work The Heaton Group.

By Dave K

I will believe it when I see it

By Jimmy Yates

I’m just in Dudley , Black country museum and Dudley Canals and caverns are there Any plans to celebrate Wigan’s heritage ,past , and what really put Wigan on the map
Good luck with your project

By Phred

Great stuff! Only problem is …..Can’t get into Wigan due to woefully inadequate road infrastructure – especially down Ormskirk Road – surely this will put people off? What is happening with the long-awaited M6/M61 link road? This would surely encourage businesses and visitors if they knew they weren’t going to sit in massive queues every time they wanted to get to work, make deliveries or visit attractions?

By Anonymous

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