Birkenhead shoppers said the area “feels like a ghost town” despite reports the town centre is making a comeback.
Wirral Council recently published statistics showing footfall in the Birkenhead Town Centre increased by more than 180,000 in the second half of 2023 following its purchase of the Pyramids and Grange shopping centres and hosting a number of events.
The council said this and increased social media engagement shows the public is “returning to both [shopping] centres in ever-increasing numbers” and that the town centre is “on the right path”.
However, while total footfall was 6.7m in 2023, a property portfolio of the shopping centres said pre-pandemic figures for 2019 showed a footfall of 9.4m people, 2.7m more than in 2023.
No figures were provided for 2022 but May 2022 analysis by the Centre for Cities shows Birkenhead’s recovery from the pandemic was “weak” whereas centres like Liverpool were seeing a stronger recovery.
Asked if they thought the town centre was now on the up, people in Birkenhead who spoke to the LDRS disagreed, pointing to a number of shops like Wilko closing down in the last year and labelling the number of empty shops in the town as depressing.
One man from Heswall said he prefers to go to Cheshire Oaks or Liverpool arguing “it’s dead now” as “everywhere is charity shops and barber shops but nothing else.”
Daniel Cliff, who grew up in Birkenhead from the age of 11, said, “We have got less shops now. They are all closing. I only come into the town centre when I’ve got to, so I don’t come in that often. When Wilkos and Poundstretcher were here, I used to come in. The pet shop has closed here, I think it’s declining. I don’t know what you can do to get people back in. I only come in when I need to.”
Kelly Robertson said, “I used to come in before but now it’s a lot quieter than it used to be. Everything is so expensive and if I go to the shop for clothes, I go to Liverpool but when I go for food, I go to the Asda up the road.”
Yvonne Quigley (pictured, lead image) from Wallasey said she comes into the town twice a week still but thinks more shops are needed to draw people in. She said, “Stop asking for a high standard of rent for the properties. We need the market back, a market with loads of food stalls which it was years ago. I remember 40 years ago the market was thriving but now there’s nothing here.
“I shop in Liscard mainly because there are more shops there than what there is here. I try to stay local. It’s declining. With decent shops and that, it could be turned around.
“We need things like that to bring people back. It’s a sad state of affairs to be honest with you. I think if I didn’t have family here I probably wouldn’t come in. It’s sad. They could do a lot if they chose to.”
Greg McTigue, from the Birkenhead Market Tenant’s Association, said events held over Christmas with the Grinch and Father Christmas had brought a lot of people into the market which like the town centre has also struggled. He added, “It didn’t put any money in the till but given the opportunity, we would like to put events like that on through the year but we don’t have the money at the moment.”
Ann Tennett, from Liscard, said she only comes in two or three times a week now as there is less to offer but visits for the “really fantastic” Number Seven cafe or the bank. Jo Winter, her granddaughter, said, “It’s like a ghost town. Even at Christmas, you wouldn’t have thought it was Christmas shopping. I only come for Asda. I think with all the closed down shops it’s depressing walking around. It’s not a nice atmosphere.”
Wirral Council’s regeneration committee chair Cllr Tony Jones insisted that things are looking more positive for Birkenhead.
He said, “We’re entering an exciting period of change, investment and improvement and are absolutely determined to restore Birkenhead to the position it previously enjoyed as an employment and leisure driver for the whole peninsula.”
Lead image: Yvonne Quigley said if she didn’t have family in Birkenhead, she probably wouldn’t visit. Credit: Edward Barnes