Birkenhead Market has ‘failed’ according to leaked report

Birkenhead Market has “failed” according to a damning assessment in a leaked report.

In 2023, Wirral Council commissioned a consultant company Pragma to produce a comprehensive report on Birkenhead town centre, looking at development opportunities, how to bring more people into the town centre and what needs to change.

The report makes a number of recommendations around developments which could see large parts of the Pyramids and the Grange shopping centres, owned by the council, knocked down.

The report, completed in October 2023, has not been made available to the public but was leaked to the LDRS. It had previously been requested by some councillors before making decisions about market plans.

As part of the report, Pragma looked at the current market located in the Grange Precinct and made recommendations on its future.

Wirral Council, which has owned the market since 2019, said the report is now out of date but had planned to use it alongside other expert assessments.

What Birkenhead Market could look like if it moves into the old Argos next door. Credit: Corstorphine and Wright

The report’s recommendation said, “The existing Birkenhead Market has failed, due to a variety of reasons including the lack of quality and relevance of the occupiers, poor trading environment, and low rents in the shopping centre enticing market traders into in-line units in scheme.”

It added that markets both locally and regionally “are struggling for relevance, attracting dwindling audiences of typically lower affluence and older age and even a revamped market will not provide a unique point of difference for Birkenhead.”

The report said that if the local authority does pursue a market development option, there should be areas for fresh food and drink, and “good quality products sitting separately from traditional market fayre.” It also recommended outside access for late-night trading and co-working spaces to drive footfall.

It recommends the council move the market to a site near the former House of Fraser store in the town. This is despite Wirral Council developing plans before the report was finished to move the market into the former Argos on Princes Pavement. The council had previously spent £1.5m on now dropped House of Fraser plans.

The report recommends the former Argos on Princes Pavement be demolished to make way for a new health centre of community facilities and potential ground-level parking with nearly all businesses relocated or removed. As for the current market, the report recommends this is demolished to make way for a new leisure centre.

Following a regeneration committee decision on 6 December, Wirral Council is currently considering three options for the market going forward which includes a relocation to Argos, a development of St John’s Pavement, or a revamp of the current market. The Pragma report recommends most of St John’s is left alone as businesses in this part of town are doing better.

Asked about the report, vice-chair of the market’s tenant association Greg McTigue doesn’t believe traders have contributed to the market’s demise, adding, “For them to brand the whole place as substandard is rich. I would say it’s an inaccurate assessment. The reason the market has deteriorated as far as I am concerned is it’s been in managed decline. There’s been no investment.”

He pointed to brands like Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser, Thorntons, Iceland, Zara, and Argos all leaving the town centre, adding that the market has “been allowed to wither and die on the vine. A number of traders have gone because the footfall has dropped but in my view, it’s dropped because there’s been no investment.”

He also said the comparisons in the report to other markets like Altrincham were “absolutely ridiculous” arguing Altrincham and Shrewsbury had a different makeup to Birkenhead, adding, “All those other places they are on the way to somewhere and they are a central hub. I do not think Birkenhead can be classed as a hub, not at the moment anyway.”

When approached about the report, Wirral Council was asked about what engagement has happened with market traders ahead of another decision expected later this month and whether it agreed with the report’s assessment the market had failed. It did not respond to these questions.

Mr McTigue, who was elected in 2023 with the hopes of a better relationship with the council said that has deteriorated again, adding, “The last meeting we had was about two weeks ago but every time we asked them, they said they had no idea or didn’t know yet. There wasn’t any straight answer to any question.”

He said, “Everything will come at the last minute where I can see they will tell us this is the deal. Go with it or go because there won’t be any more time to do anything else.”

When previously criticised about the current state of the market, Wirral Council has pointed to past offers to market traders of support like free rents and rent reductions and said it has spent more than £60,000 over the past three years advertising the market. It more recently pointed to an increase in footfall in the second of 2023 as a sign its marketing campaign for the shopping centres and wider town centre was “a success story.”

Wirral Council’s economy and regeneration chair Cllr Tony Jones said, “Wirral Council will be one of the key employers locating its staff in Birkenhead in the new office building Mallory at 2 Alice Kerr Square in the heart of the town centre. The adjacent building, Irvine, will also be rented out in the near future. This will see many hundreds of staff based there, with a significant proportion of the council’s staff moving in within weeks.

“All these extra people being based in Birkenhead will play a crucial role in bringing a huge and regular increase in footfall to the town centre. It is this increased potential customer base which is at the heart of the plans to deliver the major regeneration to Birkenhead town centre.

“The council regularly secures expert specialist opinion from outside organisations when it is not available within the authority. Comments and recommendations from these will then be considered by officers and members within the wider context of the council’s regeneration plans and used and developed as appropriate to this.

“Details of some reports such as these as well as the council’s conversations with current and potential tenants are often commercially sensitive and for this reason done in private. Those who choose to deliberately put this information into a public setting put our plans at risk.”

Lead image: Birkenhead Market. Credit: Paul Redfern. Commissioned for LDRS partners

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