Plans for the ambitious regeneration of Birkenhead town centre are gathering pace after Wirral Council was able to purchase the former House of Fraser building, at Grange Road.
The purchase of the property adds a further tangible commitment to the realisation of those ambitions and, coupled with the significant news that the borough was successful in its bid to secure almost £25m in Government Future High Streets Fund money, evidence, yet again, that having the council at the vanguard of regeneration activity leads to positive funding opportunities which prompt innovative developments such as office space @The Hythe at Wirral Waters and the modular housing at NorthBank, from Urban Splash.
The council will have greater control and rigour over the planned development of the town centre, ensuring it has the opportunity to continue and strengthen its exciting plans, which are already gathering momentum through the Wirral Growth Company, a 50:50 joint venture with leading urban regenerator Muse Developments. The first stage of demolition of the former B&M store is underway and the subsequent removal of Milton Pavements is scheduled for early this year.
After more than a decade of decline, the council is determined to oversee the transformation of Birkenhead and this bold scheme will lead to a highly accessible, central business district, created with quality, sustainable and excellent-rated energy-efficient office buildings set within extensive communal green space. Later phases will see a new replacement market and a vibrant food and drinks offer, which will bring a thriving new daytime and evening economy to the town, benefitting the wider Wirral community.
House of Fraser vacated the building at the end of March 2020, after it was a casualty of the national decline in high street retail activity and the related decrease in demand for large premises, which has led to a rise in the conversion of similar properties for residential and leisure purposes. The purchase will not only facilitate the future advancement of the town centre but it will also ensure this sizeable and well-known building will not remain empty in the long-term or will be left open to third-party development which could add little or no value to the community.
The property is at a prime location in the town, situated at the entrance to the proposed central business district of Birkenhead, close to the future redevelopment of Milton Pavements and a potential attractive residential build in the nearby Hind Street area.
Its location will have further significance if the scheme, supported by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, to remove the flyovers which currently act as a barrier between Hind Street and the town centre, is given the go-ahead. Such a large-scale investment to remove the “concrete collar barriers” in this area will bring increased footfall into the town centre, supporting the new Birkenhead Commercial District and the re-provided market.
Councillor Janette Williamson, Leader of Wirral Council, said: “We have been able to purchase the former House of Fraser building at a significantly reduced cost at a time when we are making serious progress with our plans to regenerate Birkenhead.
“Having control over the future of this building, sitting in a strategic position at the gateway to the town centre, combined with our existing portfolio, will mean we are able to move forward with our proposals, without any unforeseen difficulties presenting limitations to what we can do. It gives us options with the landscape and will afford us the opportunity to be both creative and sustainable in our developments.”
Chair of the Economy Regeneration & Development Committee, Councillor Anita Leech added: “Of course, it is fantastic news that we have secured the £25m Future High Streets Fund money, as this gives us the confidence and means to continue to pursue our exciting and ambitious plans for Birkenhead town centre.
“We have the opportunity to make significant decisions on how we move forward and we have the wherewithal to determine what needs to be done to shape a sustainable and thriving town centre for those communities who live and work here. Having a degree of control over the build environment means these demanding decisions are in our gift and that will make the difference to us achieving our goals.”
The council is aiming to present more detailed plans in early spring.