Council scrutinised over Birkenhead Market plans

Wirral Council has confirmed it is reviewing its £28m plans for the new Birkenhead Market.

According to the local authority’s Director of Regeneration David Hughes, it is doing this following the council’s purchase of the Grange and Pyramids Shopping Centres.

The council previously said the new market would be delivered by 2025 and a demolition order for the old House of Fraser building has already been approved. This is where the market is currently expected to go.

At a economy and regeneration council meeting on 18 September, officers were challenged by Cllr Jo Bird who said she was “dissatisfied” over the absence of a delivery plan coming to the committee detailing when developments were going to be delivered in the future

She said, “More importantly despite promises, there’s very little progress on the ground. There’s an empty House of Fraser building that has not been demolished. There’s no planning application for Birkenhead Market,” adding, “It looks like there’s next to nothing happening.”

Mr Hughes said, “I understand the frustrations in terms of wanting to see things happen on the ground,” adding, “Decent project plans need preparing to actually get ready to get onto the ground so investment is made in projects that are sustainable and effective rather than poorly thought through.”

He added,“What I would say is things change. We’ve bought a shopping centre, a major asset in the town centre and some of the decisions that have been made about the market need to be reviewed in light of that acquisition.”

When asked by Liberal Democrat councillor Helen Raymond what he meant by this and whether the council was still planning to use the House of Fraser site, Cllr Tony Jones said, “We’re not in a position to discuss those details given the fact it is an exempt item.”

Cllr Jones also said the changes to the market plans would not come to committee but a private workshop meeting with councillors. He said, “Discussing that detail in public is not appropriate at this time.”

The cost of the purchase of the shopping centres is yet to be revealed publicly with Wirral Council citing commercial sensitivity. The acquisition was made using the council’s cash reserves which will then be funded by long-term borrowing.

The last time the shopping centre was bought in 2011, it sold for nearly £70m.

Previously when asked to confirm concerns raised about the future of the market development and the House of Fraser location, a council spokesperson in July said the shopping centre purchase would have no effect on the market proposals.

A Council spokesperson said, “The purchase of the Pyramids / Grange Shopping centre was a strategic decision by the council to try and secure more control of the town centre in order to deliver our ambitious plans to redevelop and revitalise Birkenhead.

“Part of these plans are to build a new market on the former House of Fraser site and this has not changed because of the purchase of the shopping centre. We are currently progressing with the design of the new market and the demolition of the House of Fraser building is due to start in the next few months.

“This is partly funded by external grants – the purchase of the Pyramids / Grange Shopping centre will not have an impact on the demolition or delivery of the new market.”

Image: Wirral Council

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