|A Meeting of Mines
Mayor Xu Chongzin exchanges gifts with Lord Peter Smith
Two large towns, both founded on coal and now left with a legacy of colliery spoil heaps and wetland wildlife habitats caused by mining subsidence.
And it was these similarities from times past – and shared ideas for the future – which this week brought together senior figures from Wigan Council with their opposite numbers from Huaibei in the Anhui Province of eastern China.
“We share a lot of history,” the Mayor of Huaibei told Wigan Council leader Lord Peter Smith. “We are here to learn how Wigan has responded to the decline of mining through the regeneration of its natural environment.”
A former miner himself, Mayor Xu Chongzin, accompanied by a group of planning and environment experts from his home city, explored Wigan’s Flashes and the new housing and industrial development on the site of the old Bickershaw Colliery. They were visiting the borough as part of a wider trip to the region organised by Manchester University.
Former Makerfield MP Sir Ian McCartney, who has visited China many times during the period of the last government, led the guests on a tour of the borough, assisted by council planning and regeneration officers and senior members of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. The Chinese delegation were keen to see at first had Wigan’s transformation from old industries into a modern economy which also prides itself on the wildlife and leisure opportunities offered by the local environment.
Lord Smith and deputy leader Cllr David Molyneux, along with local business leaders, joined Mayor Xu for a traditional Lancashire lunch of hotpot and bread and butter pudding at Leigh Sports Village.
Cllr Smith said: “I am very delighted to welcome the Mayor and colleagues. We are proud to show him how our borough continues to respond to the challenge.”
The delegation was taken on a tour of successful land reclamation schemes around Greenheart, Wigan’s Regional Park. During a walk on the paths around with the Wigan Flashes, Mark Champion of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust pointed out the council’s successful transformation of the area from the legacy of the former Ince Moss Colliery, the sewage farm and tips into a local nature reserve which now boasts orchids and even ospreys.
Mark told the delegation: “The similarity of landscape between Huaibei and Wigan is astonishing. We have a wonderful resource for the community and for nature here on the Wigan Flashes and given time, you can expect to see nature take hold and create a wonderful landscape for you in Huaibei.”
Following their visit to Wigan, Mr Xu and his colleagues visited schemes in Warrington and met with experts in Chinese urban geography at Manchester University.