Birkenhead Market traders could go it alone and move into former Marks and Spencer

Birkenhead Market traders are looking to go their own way as they hope to move into a former Marks and Spencer.

Marks and Spencer vacated its store in the Pyramids and Grange Shopping Centres in Birkenhead in 2018 and since then, it has remained largely vacant.

According to a property portfolio of the shopping centres done in 2023, its lease is due to expire in 2042 paying a rent of £235,000 a year.

However following the controversial decision to move Birkenhead Market into a former Argos on Princes Pavements by 2026, a trader has been looking at whether market traders could look to set up a new community market in the former store.

The store is located off St Johns Square in the Grange Precinct which is reportedly a busier part of the town centre.

When Wirral Council explored the option in 2019, it was “generally popular with traders” but considered the costs to be too great as Marks and Spencer would have to surrender their lease.

After the council bought the shopping centres, this option was due to be reviewed but Marks and Spencer had agreed to sublet the unit for two years to an art gallery.

However the art gallery has now pulled out and according to an email sent to a trader, Marks and Spencer are happy to let a new Birkenhead Market be run from the premises subject to terms and conditions.

Alan Featherstone, who runs The Big Flower Shop with his son Will, has now applied for a market rights licence which if granted gives the opportunity for a new market to operate in the borough. The council’s policy was established to help “protect the commercial success of the [Birkenhead] market and make commercially minded decisions that support its traders.”

The Birkenhead Market Tenants Association have also said the new plans for Marks and Spencer were “well-received” by members and it is “enthusiastic to support [the] efforts in any way possible” calling it an “exciting project”.

Mr Featherstone said he had put the idea forward following concerns raised by traders about the lack of trading space in the former Argos and who will be allowed to move into the new market there.

Having run a business for many years, Mr Featherstone said, “What I am trying to do is pay that back to the next generation,” adding, “This is the right thing to do because I do not think we will meet the criteria set by the council. It will mean the loss of jobs as well as our business.”

He estimates the new market could be set up before the end of the year but acknowledged plans are in their early stages and this is an ambitious target. The costs for the refurbishment is expected to be paid for by Mr Featherstone himself as well as some traders of around £1m.

He said, “It isn’t something where we are going to have to start knocking down walls,” adding, “You will see as you walk in when you come through the main door all the stores in the middle which are below eye level.

“You will be able to see every stall trading. It will be wide and open and clean and you can see every stall full.”

He thinks the community market could complement the council’s plans to regenerate Birkenhead and complement any different market offer in Argos, adding, “What it would also do is offer the council the opportunity to demolish the current market quicker which would help them get rentals into their office buildings.”

He said, “It’s trying to move forward in a positive way. All traders want this. So far I have had only one who said ‘I am not going to do that because when this market closes I am going to retire’ I want the council to see the logic in this, see it as a good idea for the town centre and traders.”

Mr Featherstone said he didn’t expect major construction to be needed and while asbestos has been raised as an issue by Wirral Council previously, he claimed a report done of the building suggested this wouldn’t be a problem for their plans which wouldn’t involve demolition.

He said he had informed the council of his idea before the March meeting where Wirral Council committed to moving Birkenhead Market into the former Argos and the market licence will now be considered by the local authority.

Wirral Council and Marks and Spencer were approached for comment about the proposal.

The local authority has committed to working with traders as it develops its Argos plans further which it has said is the only way a new market could be delivered in Birkenhead using the £14.4m grant it originally recieved from the government.

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