Work to start on Bickershaw Colliery

Michael Hunt

The green light has been given by the Government's Homes and Communities Agency for all funding to be released from a £19.14m pot to enable major regeneration work at the former Bickershaw Colliery site near Leigh in Wigan.

The site closed in 1992 and is now part of the HCA's National Coalfields Programme, which is a major regeneration programme designed to breathe new life into derelict coalfield communities across England.

The investment will provide a new spine road into the colliery site and prepare the site for development under a programme of land remediation which will tackle the contamination from its former use as a coalmine.

Derelict land will be reclaimed to enable the development of up to 650 homes, a 40 berth canal boat marina and over 20,000 sq ft of employment space, which will include high quality food and drink venues.

The first phase of the project, Bickershaw South, is seen as a major boost to the economy of Leigh.

Bickershaw South was announced as a carbon challenge site in November 2007, a government initiative aimed at accelerating the building industry's response to the 2016 target for all new housing to be zero carbon. To help achieve this, a wind turbine is proposed to provide energy for the development.

The North West Development Agency is the land owner of Bickershaw South and will invest the funding on behalf of the HCA.

Steven Broomhead, chief executive of NWDA, said: "With the release of this funding, we will be able to fully remediate the site and create an attractive prospect at Bickershaw for future private investors. I am delighted we can make progress on a project which is important in securing the economic future of Leigh."

It is hoped that future funding will be secured to progress later phases of the development to include the creation of a country park, 18-hole golf course, driving range and an outdoor activity centre at Bickershaw North, known as The Rushes.

Martin Kimber, director of environmental services at Wigan Council, said: "The investment in both projects is aimed at promoting economic, social and environmental opportunities to the local community. They will also improve the image and attractiveness of the area."

Kimber added: "The first phase will create a vibrant economic zone and in these difficult times it is right that this area has been given priority. In the fullness of time it will be followed by a magnificent country park that will form the unofficial centre for the much bigger 'Greenheart' project, which will link together many of the borough's open spaces.

"Whilst we accept that funding is not available currently to complete both phases of the scheme due to the current economic climate, we want to reassure people we have not abandoned the plans."

Over the last few years, Wigan Council has been involved in many projects to redevelop the Leigh area, including Leigh Sports Village; the extension of the Parsonage Retail area and Leigh East Hilton Park.

In February this year, the council appointed DTZ to head a team to prepare a feasibility study and masterplan for Leigh town centre.

The council's economic regeneration office brought in the advisory team, which included EDAW and Faber Maunsell, to help with its ongoing plans to redevelop the town.

The latest news follows an intervention by Andy Burnham MP who believes it will signal a local 'jobs boost' for Leigh. Andy Burnham and Ian McCartney MP met with previous Housing Minister, Margaret Beckett MP and presented a robust case for work to restart on site as well as protecting local construction jobs.

Burnham, who launched the 'Pride in Leigh' petition to call for improvements in 2008, said: "I have always seen this development as a crucial step in the ongoing regeneration of the Leigh area. When I heard news of the delay to Bickershaw South I was very worried about the impact on local jobs and I urged the minister in the current economic downturn to release funds to 'kick start' work so that construction jobs could be protected. In these difficult times work starting on site would be a real help now and would signal a major boost for the Leigh economy and the local construction industry."

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