Councillor launches bid for Leigh authority

Communities secretary Eric Pickles and Coun James Grundy
Communities secretary Eric Pickles and Coun James Grundy

AN opposition councillor has launched a daring bid to overturn 40 years of local government and give Leigh its own council again.

Conservative Coun James Grundy for Lowton East ward says many people in areas from Lowton to Astley do not feel a connection to Wigan and should get the chance to consider having their own local authority.

Every other year or so you hear people saying Leigh should have its own council

James Grundy

Coun Grundy floated his ambitious proposition to communities secretary Eric Pickles on a recent visit to Atherton to discuss setting up a town council there.

Mr Pickles said any such proposal would not be considered “this side of the election” but told Coun Grundy to “talk to me afterwards”.

Coun Grundy now wants to start a public debate and is keen to hear from residents whether they would prefer a separate authority or to leave the current arrangement in place.

He said: “Wigan Council has been very unpopular in the eastern half of the borough because people don’t feel like they belong to Wigan.

“I think this has been bubbling under the surface for the full 40 years Wigan Council has existed. Every other year or so you hear people saying Leigh should have its own council. I also hear people suggesting Leigh and the surrounding areas have never been served very well by Wigan and I have some sympathy with that view.

“For example, I don’t think there would be a Wigan guided busway running through the middle of Wigan if it had been as protested as the Leigh one has been.

“When I spoke to Eric Pickles it seemed he would be willing to consider, so I hope there will be a feasibility study.”

Coun Grundy’s proposal is for Leigh and surrounding areas to break away from Wigan Council entirely and set up a new unitary authority, in effect splitting the borough almost in half.

Coun Grundy said he believed the plan would be popular with a considerable number of residents and said that council arrangements have in the past been changed following unhappiness among those living there.

He said: “It’s not just an issue for Leigh. I think it applies to places like Atherton, where a recent poll suggested 82 per cent of people don’t feel part of Wigan borough.

“There’s also places like Lowton which really don’t connect well to Wigan and Astley which is so far away it has absolutely no connection with it.

“In the ‘70s the original local government report included Bury becoming part of Rochdale, but people protested, said they wanted to remain separate and won the argument.

“It’s not going to happen immediately and we might find it isn’t doable, but if it looks feasible I hope the question will be put to the people in a referendum.”