Wirral Council is looking at whether it can split a former Wilko store into smaller units to attract more businesses into Birkenhead.
The former store is based in the Europa Centre in the town centre and closed in early October after Wilko went into administration in 2023. This has left Wirral Council, which owns the entire building, facing a £200,000 loss in the current financial year.
In November 2017, Wirral Council made the decision to buy the Europa Centre as part of its plans to regenerate Birkenhead for £8.4m and currently expects to recover the lost income from Wilko in the next financial year.
Ahead of an economy and regeneration meeting, details have been published from a private meeting between councillors and council officers discussing how it will find £1.9m to balance the department’s budget from April 2024.
Some of this will be achieved through increases in income, preventative maintenance of its properties and through £280,000 of rental income in its new offices. The council will also look to sell off more of its assets which cost £11m to maintain.
Regarding Wilko, officers were asked whether the council was looking at splitting the former store into smaller units. Officers said, “This is something that officers have been looking into and work was ongoing on the viability of similar plans.”
The report said concerns were raised during the meeting about the number of empty shops in Birkenhead town centre after Wilko closed and leases due for renewal in the Pyramids and Grange shopping centres. The council bought the shopping centres in May 2023 for a reported £10.5m.
One councillor, anonymised in the report, said people in Birkenhead felt “a sense of despondency about central Birkenhead and the changes to the Pyramids over the years. There was a sense that there was nothing to draw people to the area.”
A property portfolio of both shopping centres published in April 2023 showed a number of leases were up for renewal in 2023 and 2024. In total, these came to over £500,000 with £236,767 up for renewal in 2024.
At the time, the shopping centres brought in just over £3.4m with a net income of £1.155m. However, 74% of this was due to expire in 5 years and 10% of tenants were “holding over” which meant no agreed lease was in place.
In response to concerns, council officers said, “There is a risk that the town centre could decline in the way a lot of Northern town centres have. The proposal to acquire the Pyramids was bold and ambitious.
“It has put the council into a stewards position and as such the Council wants to get the town centre performing well for residents as well as for long term sustainability. It was noted that the retail sector was contracting and the Council was looking into ways to attract people to the town centre with alternate uses for the units it has.”
Regarding a loss of income, council officers said they were “looking at ways to increase overall activity in the area to help raise good lease income.”
One proposal the council has put forward is to use an empty unit by moving Birkenhead Market into the former Argos store on Princes Pavements. However, these plans have been incredibly controversial and unpopular with market traders meaning the council is now considering other options alongside the Argos proposal.