Councillors ‘kept in the dark’ over Birkenhead plans

Councillors say they are being “kept in the dark” over Wirral Council’s plans for Birkenhead.

Wirral Council is currently reviewing its plans for a new home for Birkenhead Market and has so far spent £24,000 on plans to relocate it to the former Argos.

Previous plans had been put forward for a brand new market facility on the site of a former House of Fraser site on Grange Road in the town.

It was previously reported by the LDRS that the council has included a proposed spend of £6m on refurbishing the former Argos unit in an investment plan submitted to the government.

The plan outlines how the council will use £73.5m of government grant funding to regenerate parts of Wirral.

However, the proposal has been criticised by some market traders and concerns were raised by councillors from different parties at a recent committee meeting. Liberal Democrat Cllr Stuart Kelly said he was fed up of hearing updates through press reports, adding, “I just don’t know as a member of this council what is going on.”

Cllr Kelly later called the Argos proposal was “a daft idea” and too expensive at £6m for a “temporary” measure”.

Birkenhead Labour MP Mick Whitley also had his say on the plans. He said, “I’ve been clear with the council that any temporary move must be made in consultation with the traders and that the longer term plan to build a new market hall must proceed.”

In response to questions, the council said it “remains committed to delivering a new market in the heart of Birkenhead town centre which will be sustainable and affordable” and added that the proposed move to Argos is temporary.

Green councillor Jo Bird who sits on the council’s regeneration committee said she believes council officers are planning to move the market into Argos “without consultation with councillors or market traders,” adding, “There are now no credible plans to build the market on the House of Fraser site.”

She said, “There’s a huge disconnect between the agreed plans of the council and what is happening and the information that is being provided to everybody affected. Members of the regeneration committee have been kept in the dark.

“There is clear cross-party concern around the regeneration of Birkenhead. These are important concerns. There are brilliant aspirations to regenerate Birkenhead but there is no delivery plan to move forward.

“For decades Birkenhead has been promised regeneration and it is now time to build, not to impose things against the wishes of traders and local councillors.”

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Phil Gilchrist said, “I have been pressing senior officers to provide a full and frank explanation of what has been going on. We all believed the market could be relocated onto the House of Fraser site.

“It seems the cost of the original project has shot up, leading to a re-think. The questions about the suitability of the Argos site need answering in full. We all have to be satisfied that spending on going into that is value for money.

“We need to know how long the Argos site will be used until something better replaces it. We urgently need options presented that are practical and positive and fully discussed in public, in the right place through the committees.

“The concern at the lack of information and consultation expressed by Cllr Kelly and Cllr [Paula] Basnett at Audit and Risk committee is shared across the council. I’ve really been hoping for a scheme that attracts investment and brings shoppers back.”

The Labour chair of the council’s economy and regeneration committee Cllr Tony Jones said, “All members have raised concerns about the delivery plans for the delivery of various projects linked to three different pots of grant funding and the different timelines associated with each one.”

He added, “With the rising costs of the original market plan and the acquisition of the Pyramids shopping centre, officers have been working up various potential options for the market site.

“No options have been submitted to the Economy, Regeneration and Housing Committee, and neither has a decision been made on the future of the Birkenhead market. I expect a full report to the Economy, Regeneration and Housing Committee which will set out the available options.”

Wirral’s opposition party, the Conservatives, have not responded to a request for comment on the issue.

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