Handling of Birkenhead Market plans ‘could have been better from the start’

Wirral Council’s leader said the handling of new Birkenhead Market plans “could have been better from the start”.

The local authority has been working on plans for a new market in Birkenhead since 2019 with a number of different locations put forward.

However, the relationship between the council and market traders has soured over the last year following a controversial decision to relocate the facility to a former Argos site on Princes Pavement.

Traders believe that under these plans many long-standing businesses will have to close down due to a lack of trading space. Despite opposition from traders, a petition, and the town’s Labour MP Mick Whitley, the council is still pressing ahead with the Argos plans.

What Birkenhead Market could look like if it moves into the old Argos store. Credit: Corstorphine and Wright

Labour council leader Cllr Paul Stuart, who has led the local authority since May 2023, claimed engagement with traders “did get better” in the last year but said, “I think engagement with traders could have been better from the start.”

He added, “I met with the traders, I met with them on site to walk around with them and to listen to what their views were about different sites.

“What this boils down to is we have got a finite amount of money and it’s to deliver something or nothing because that money comes with a deadline. It might not be what some of the traders want but I think that once it’s built where the proposal is, that’ll give confidence, bring footfall for the traders, and give confidence for the traders we are behind them.”

Traders have previously told the LDRS that communication with the council has not improved, with some feeling kept in the dark about what criteria Wirral Council will use to select new traders for the new market at the former Argos store.

As a result, traders are looking to go their own way and are developing early plans to move into the town centre’s former Marks and Spencer.

The market traders’ proposal for the former Marks & Spencer store

This was the first option ever considered by the local authority for a new market and proved popular with traders. Asked about this, Cllr Stuart said, “The traders have made it clear in their proposal they feel it would complement the old Argos site. If that’s how they feel, then great. As to whether a future market can go there, there’s a long way to go. I’ve read their proposals and I understand there’s an awful lot of investment that they need to obtain.

“If that’s not achievable for them, we still want to work with them to give them something towards what they need in the proposed site that we have got.”

If a market can be successfully established in Marks and Spencer, its traders association said members would move there instead of the Argos site that Wirral Council is investing £8m into. This money needs to be spent by spring 2026.

Asked if the council might reconsider Argos, Cllr Stuart said, “I can’t see that changing in the sense of where the grant funding has been allocated because of the time sensitivities around it, the business plan and how that site is used.

“If the other site becomes available and the Marks and Spencer site does become a market with the traders in there, that’ll be a future decision for the Pyramids and what we do with that site. At this moment in time, that [Argos] is the only thing we have got and the only thing we can deliver in the time scale that’s needed.”

Cllr Stuart’s re-election as council leader on 22 May came off the back of the announcement voters will be going to the polls on 4 July to choose their next MP for the next five years. Current polls suggest Labour is on track to win the election.

Cllr Stuart said, “I am hoping there will be a change in government and I hope that that change in government brings about a change in priorities. I accept an incoming government of whatever colour is going to inherit what they’re going to inherit.

“I am confident that an incoming Labour government will reprioritise when looking at the budget,” adding, “I will be lobbying a Labour government to prioritise the needs of councils like ours within the budget they’ve got.”

Lead image: The existing Birkenhead Market. Credit: Ed Barnes

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