Repurposing historic buildings and delivering affordable homes can set places like Leigh apart from the region’s city centre, writes Jonathan Twentyman of JP McGuire Developments.
I grew up in Leigh and went to St Joseph’s School school. My electrical contracting business Genlec has been based here for 30 years, and now my property development business, JP McGuire Developments, is transforming a Grade II Listed Victorian cotton mill on Mather Lane into 98 loft-style apartments.
Working in construction in the North West, I’ve noticed a huge disparity between investment in central Manchester compared to towns like Leigh. In the city centre, we’re seeing more and more big blocks of small apartments, which aren’t practical or affordable for the majority of people. We need more well-designed, affordable residential properties in smaller towns like Leigh. Things are changing, but more needs to be done.
Leigh has benefited recently from the new busway into Manchester, which makes commuting easier. The council has also pledged to invest money into improving Wigan, including new developments along the ‘Canal Corridor’, with plans for a Bridgewater Urban Village, Leigh Marina and Leigh Sports Village.
But we can’t rely solely on local authorities and the government. We need entrepreneurial people and businesses involved too. Private investment and projects are required to help Leigh meet its full potential and create a vibrant community where people want to live, work and socialise. We’re now seeing more independent shops, restaurants and businesses opening around Leigh, which is a promising sign for the area.
Often it can take just one or two improvements for a town to suddenly become an attractive option for more investment and opportunities. Take Altrincham, for example. The town centre was dead for years. Slowly more independents have come along, and the redevelopment of Altrincham Market transformed the area and it’s once again an exciting place to be. I can see the same happening for Leigh.
The next few years will be a key time for the town, and I’m proud our Loom Wharf development is part of the change for Leigh. One of our aims with the development is to make luxury, loft-style living available at an affordable price to local people. We don’t want to sell all the apartments to investors – we want them to go to people to live in, whether they are stepping on to the property ladder for the first time or are making their next move.
In towns all around the North West, there are abandoned buildings like the cotton mill we’re regenerating. There seems to be a temptation from some to pull them down and start again, but I hope more investors and developers see the potential to bring these beautiful old buildings back to life.