AMBITIOUS plans to transform the site of the former Bickershaw Colliery into a residential, retail and leisure haven received a massive boost after the Government promised a £19.4million funding package to help reclaim the site.

The multi-million pound package through the National Coalfields Programme will help prepare the site for the planned construction of 650 new homes, a canal marina with small retail businesses, pubs, restaurants and small offices surrounding the marina at Bickershaw South, Plank Lane.

Lead design consultants Scott Wilson have been commissioned to work on the design and a planning application is expected to be made later this year.

A further regeneration scheme at Bickershaw North is planned where up to 240 hectares of greenbelt land owned by Wigan Council will be reclaimed for outdoor recreation and open space, although plans for this site are at an earlier stage.

Residents will get the first glimpse of the regeneration scheme next month when the first public consultation gets underway.

And if Bickershaw South site owners the North West Regional Development Agency are successful in gaining planning permission, work could begin in just two years time.

The new Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Brian Jarvis, who lives just yards away from the proposed development, said: "I welcome these plans to redevelop Bickershaw Colliery. Plank Lane village has suffered a decline in fortunes in the last 30 years and the area in general has been neglected.

"This scheme will breathe new life into the area, bring people and families into the town, create jobs and leisure facilities to be proud of. It will be a fantastic development for the whole community."

Leigh MP Andy Burnham, said: "The whole Bickershaw site could be transformed from an area that has been overlooked through to a part of Leigh which could be a real selling point for the town.

"We could really make the site a really attractive place, so its fantastic news that the site will receive substantial investment from the Government.

"It will form part of a massive regeneration programme taking place across the whole of Leigh, from the Leigh Sports Village through to Bickershaw Colliery and Gibbfield Colliery.

"I think it is vitally important that the people of Leigh get the chance to express their views, reservations and thoughts on the scheme. It's also important that after 13 years since the colliery site closed, we don't see any more major delays in the regeneration of Bickershaw Colliery."