Birkenhead Market traders claim up to 40 jobs “are going to be sacrificed” if Wirral Council moves ahead with its Argos plans.
In 2021, the council outlined plans to move the town’s market from Grange Precinct to the site of the former House of Fraser store on Grange Road. The major plans, which would have seen the building demolished and replaced by a £28m new facility, were billed as a key part of the council’s vision for a revitalised Birkenhead.
However Wirral Council is now recommending councillors approve a move of the market to the former Argos unit in the Pyramids Shopping Centre at a regeneration committee meeting on 6 December.
The move was first revealed in September by the LDRS and leaked emails now suggest old plans to move the market to the old House of Fraser site on Grange Road were scrapped months ago.
The council has said all processes were followed and the final decision will be made by councillors and said Argos “is considered to be a strong alternative location for Birkenhead Market.”
Opposition councillors have called the Argos proposals “absolutely barmy” and “third rate” and Birkenhead’s Labour MP Mick Whitley criticised the move as alarming and called for clarity on the situation.
Wirral South MP Alison McGovern also expressed similar concerns to Mr Whitley, adding, “We want Birkenhead to thrive. The traders need to be fully consulted and for there to be a shared plan.”
Market traders said multiple store holders had left in recent weeks over the uncertainty and two more handed their notice in this week.
Councillors on the regeneration committee have also been sent two documents, confirmed by the LDRS, by an anonymous group of planning, design and regeneration specialists criticising an officer report as “littered with inaccuracies and misleading statements” and argued the council “appear to be stepping back from its commitment to deliver the comprehensive regeneration of Birkenhead.”
The group said, “The Argos building fails in every way to meet the original brief which aimed to give Birkenhead a market that would be a catalyst for regeneration and be an anchor and focus around which the town centre could be transformed.”
It added, “The finished market, with artificial lighting and low headroom, will feel cramped and constrained, lacking the airy, light spacious atmosphere which traditional and well designed modern markets such as Chester and Warrington have.”
The documents also criticise the proposals for external dining in the rear delivery yard and the lack of a public square, adding, “The conversion of a redundant building underneath a 1980s multi-storey car park will not deliver a market home which will be successful.”
It was also pointed out the regeneration committee papers do not include relevant documents such as the council’s masterplan for the town centre, a study done in 2020 about refurbishing the existing market, and a consultant assessment on the entire town centre completed in October.
It also raised concerns councillors have not been made aware of potential risks, given information on why House of Fraser costs had gone up, and questioned why the current market in the Grange Precinct can’t be redeveloped.
A council consultation done with market traders on the House of Fraser plans in March said all traders bar one indicated they would move into the new building though they said 86 stalls would be required, more than in the plans and concerns were raised about rents and size. The report also highlighted positive comments from traders who were overall impressed with the design and that it would bring in customers. One even said, “25 out of 5 it’s that good.”
On 4 December, Wirral Council leader Paul Stuart said he had “a full frank conversation” with traders, adding: “They didn’t appreciate how large (Argos) actually is. What I did find enlightening is the traders by and large didn’t want to move to the House of Fraser site.”
However, the Birkenhead Market Tenants Association said their position has not changed, that they still do not think Argos is big enough, and continue to oppose the move.
Traders have met with the council on December 4 and 5, just before the meeting is held later today (6 December).
At a full council meeting on 4 December, Greg McTigue, vice-chair of the Birkenhead Market Tenant’s Association, told councillors, “It is confidently forecast and this I can verify is that at least 35, perhaps 40 jobs, will be lost and 35 to 40 businesses are going to be sacrificed if this move is enforced on the market.”
Last week, Mr McTigue told the LDRS there had been no consultation with traders on the Argos, adding, “When all this hiatus started all those years ago, we were promised a shiny bright new market with pillars and lots of light. Purpose-built but over the years and its various guises, it’s changed and changed and changed so now we’re down to a refurbished building on the periphary of town. It’s not the centre of town which we were promised and it’s too small.”
The association recently had a change of leadership with the hope of improving relationships with the council but Mr McTigue said, “I can’t see it getting a lot better because they are not willing or can’t offer us what we need.
“I will predict that if this all goes through when it comes to Argos, there’ll be no more than three or four traders who are trading here now moving into that building.”
A Wirral Council spokesperson said, “Councillors are due to be updated on the current situation with proposals for the future of Birkenhead Market at the meeting of the Economy, Regeneration and Housing Committee (6 December).
“Ahead of this meeting elected members have submitted questions and raised a number of issues which are being addressed by officers, and some of which may well also be covered at the committee meeting.
“To date there have been a number of ideas, suggestions and proposals considered for the new Market reflecting changing conditions, but at this point no final decision on a way forward has been made. Delivery of a Market in Birkenhead remains a priority for the council and any final decision will be made by councillors following due process.”
Lead image: Argos plans for Birkenhead Market. Credit: Corstophine and Wright