More options put forward as Argos market plans progress

Wirral Council has moved forward with its controversial £6m plans to move Birkenhead Market into Argos along with two more options.

These two options could see the new market built on St John’s Pavements or refurbish the current market in the Grange Precinct. These options had been put forward by traders who felt they were being “shoehorned into a repurposed site on the outskirts of town.”

Alongside Argos, the other two options will now be assessed for their feasibility with the vote at a 6 December regeneration committee meeting being unanimous. A proposal by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to still consider previous plans to build the market on the old House of Fraser on Grange Road was voted down.

Wirral Council moved forward in 2021 with building a brand new purpose-built market on the former House of Fraser alongside at least 89 residential units and committed to taking this to the stage where a planning application is submitted. However, leaked emails show the council’s regeneration boss David Hughes ordered offices to halt all work on those plans in May.

It then began planning to move the market into the former Argos behind the bus station on Princes Pavements from as early as July but market traders lobbied against this move with 1,200 signing a petition against it. Concerns have been raised repeatedly by councillors about being “kept in the dark” as they found out about plans through press reports.

Market traders also said they knew nothing of the plans until recently and a meeting with all market traders was only held on 5 December, 24 hours before councillors made a decision.

Greg McTigue, vice chair of the Birkenhead Market Tenants Association, said he was delighted with the result, adding, “I think if you want to coin a phrase it’s a victory for common sense. I think having managed to get the sort of result we have had this evening, it might be possible that sense might prevail.”

He added, “At the end of the day, we wanted to show we have a voice and they as an entity should regard what we have to say rather than battling on blindly that what we say is right which is what has happened so far. I believe in what it is we are trying to, I do not believe that businesses will survive in that environment.”

Market traders at the meeting challenged the council on what the remaining £8.3m of Future High Streets grant funding would be spent on and why they had not been consulted. The council’s regeneration director David Hughes also confirmed the council did a study on refurbishing the current market in recent weeks but this had not been shown to councillors yet.

At the meeting, those in favour argued the Argos was near transport links and plans for new housing with one councillor even calling it fantastic. Those against pointed to the opposition of market traders and expressed concern the council was rowing back on its regeneration plans.

To traders, Cllr Andrew Hodson said, “We are going to have a building that’s already there. We can use it and hopefully spend the saved money to make it a better market hall for you,” adding, “It’s going to be in the centre of everything by the time we’ve finished all the development plans we got.”

However, Birkenhead councillor Ewen Tomeny said, “The big picture here is that the whole of the regeneration of Birkenhead feels like it is at risk here and it’s really just about a building. It’s about demonstrating we can deliver the regeneration that was promised and is desperately needed by this area.”

He added, “Plans change but it would be nice if when these plans change, everybody’s brought along and in truth you know, we visited the Argos site earlier on today and it’s disappointing we weren’t taken there six months ago when initially these ideas when we acquired the site.”

Asked when he knew the market plans were changing, Wirral Council leader Paul Stuart said he first heard in June or July and despite the leaked emails, insisted councillors made the final decision. However, he added, “I do take on board the comments about having a site visit sooner rather than later. That might have helped put at ease any concerns that people had because for a majority they wouldn’t have seen behind the counter of that site at Argos.”

Asked why the council thinks Argos would be a good idea, Cllr Stuart said, “The point has been made it is not too far from the current market,” adding: “I like most people have never seen behind the counter so when I went and saw the other side of it. It’s very difficult to understand before you see the total size of the building itself.”

He promised to fully consult market traders going forward, adding, “I can see the benefits but I can see the concerns that traders have got with the site but ultimately we have to deliver on our regeneration ambitions.”

Images: Corstophine and Wright

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