Leaked report suggests attracting major brands to Birkenhead

A leaked report suggests major brands like Nando’s and Ann Summers should be brought into Birkenhead town centre to help revive the town.

In October 2023, Wirral Council commissioned Pragma Consulting Limited to produce a comprehensive report of the Pyramids and Grange shopping centres it bought earlier that year, as well as the economics of the wider town centre.

The report makes a number of recommendations from new developments as well as suggestions to help keep large brands in town like ASDA and Primark.

The report, which has not been made publicly available, makes a number of sweeping recommendations in relation to car parking, Birkenhead Market, redeveloping parts of the town centre, and encouraging Hamilton Square to become more of a community space.

Wirral councillors recently claimed the shopping centres were becoming a success story citing statistics showing more footfall in the town centre in the second half of 2023. However, people interviewed by the LDRS were more sceptical, pointing to a number of shops that have closed in recent years with one person comparing it to “a ghost town”.

The Pragma report shows total visits and visits per day to the town centre has increased by over 65% since the Covid-19 pandemic with Asda being a big driver of sales but people are spending less and less time in the town centre. Visitors peak around midday before dropping off with little footfall in the evenings and a significant drop on Sundays.

In light of this, the report recommends the local authority needs to improve the food and beverage offer in the town to encourage people to visit in the evening. It said the less time people spend in the town centre reflects “reduced appeal of retail provision and the need for more relevant brands and uses to promote dwell.”

The report adds, “There’s no peak in weekend visits, demonstrating the lack of unique appeal compared to competing locations and evening visits are low reflecting the need for an improved F&B (food and beverage) and leisure offer to drive evening footfall.”

It also recommends the local authority look at relocating the Vue Cinema and Europa leisure centre directly into the town centre alongside new restaurants, two proposals that have previously been included in the local authority’s regeneration proposals.

In order to do this, the report recommends the council look at bringing in brands like Nando’s and Zizzi’s as well as competitive retail stores like Clarks, Ann Summers, and Quiz. It also discusses a M&S Simply Food store where Marks and Spencer closed its Birkenhead store in 2018.

The report said this would “help to generate excitement, enhance the overall quality of offer, and drive footfall.” It also said new housing developments promised as part of the council’s draft Local Plan could help boost the high street with an extra £1.5m turnover for shops.

Cllr Tony Jones, chair of Wirral Council’s Economy, Regeneration and Housing Committee, said, “Wirral Council will be one of the key employers locating its staff in Birkenhead in the new office building Mallory at 2 Alice Kerr Square in the heart of the town centre.

“The adjacent building, Irvine, will also be rented out in the near future. This will see many hundreds of staff based there, with a significant proportion of the council’s staff moving in within weeks.

“All these extra people being based in Birkenhead will play a crucial role in bringing a huge and regular increase in footfall to the town centre. It is this increased potential customer base which is at the heart of the plans to deliver the major regeneration to Birkenhead town centre.

“The council regularly secures expert specialist opinion from outside organisations when it is not available within the authority. Comments and recommendations from these will then be considered by officers and members within the wider context of the council’s regeneration plans and used and developed as appropriate to this.

“Details of some reports such as these as well as the council’s conversations with current and potential tenants are often commercially sensitive and for this reason done in private.

“Those who choose to deliberately put this information into a public setting put our plans at risk. For example, they undermine the council’s ability to secure the best negotiating position for the council tax payer, and it can also have a negative impact on the authority’s current – and future – relationships with partners who expect their business to be kept confidential.

“The council has a long-term plan to make our borough better for the people who live, work and visit here and is committed to being open and transparent but most people and businesses will understand that some activities need to be kept confidential for a period and they will usually be disclosed subsequently at an appropriate time.

“Revealing private information about commercial ventures involving the council while they are ongoing undermines what we are trying to achieve for our communities and this is to the clear detriment of everyone in our borough.”

Nando’s, Zizzi’s, Clarks, Ann Summers, Quiz, and Marks and Spencer were all approached for comment.

Image: Grange Precinct photographed during lockdown in 2020. Credit: www.birkenhead2020.com

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