Plans to regenerate a Wirral town after it was destroyed in an explosion have been called a “missed opportunity.”
Last week, planning permission was granted by Wirral Council to The Regenda Group to build 34 flats on the site of the explosion in New Ferry six years ago.
This is the first stage of the town’s regeneration which will bring more than 70 new properties to the area as well as improving the street scene with new planters and benches.
Construction for the first 34 apartments is expected to begin in the autumn of 2023 and will take about 18 months to finish.
Michael Birkett, CEO of The Regenda Group, said, “This is a truly transformational project that will see the regeneration of New Ferry. We’re not only building great quality, affordable homes, we’re investing in the wider community.
“This development will offer apprenticeships through The Learning Foundry and we want to engage with local school children through aspirations partner, Positive Footprints. As a regeneration group, we know it takes more than bricks and mortar to make a place thrive, and we want to work with local people and organisations to deliver a lasting legacy we can all be proud of.”
However a lack of new retail space has been criticised by some in the community. In the explosion, a number of shops, businesses and a restaurant were destroyed and some wanted to see new space offered as part of the new buildings.
Mark Anthony Craig, Chair of the New Ferry Resident’s Association, said, “I welcome the fact that something has been approved and something is going to be built but I think it is an opportunity missed.
“An opportunity missed to strengthen the existing precinct in terms of its retail offer but without something new to attract shoppers back in there, the surviving business do not have a chance.”
Sam Jelenski, who has just set up a new zero food waste distribution centre on the high street, said, “Are we happy? I can’t say we are happy. We have got some excitement because something is in place finally but we will see what happens after.”
Given a number of shops have closed up on the high street, Mr Jelenski believes these could reopen when the new developments are brought in, adding: “There is plenty of retail space with at least 10 units that are available straight away.”
However both Mr Craig and Mr Jelenski said high prices for businesses moving in could be a barrier to new ones starting up.
When the lack of new retail space has been raised before, Wirral Council previously said it wanted to see currently boarded up shops reopened and felt the right move was to build more homes in the town centre to help grow the local customer base for the shops and increase footfall.
The regeneration of New Ferry has also been a key issue in the upcoming local elections on May 4 in Bromborough ward with both Labour and Green Parties welcoming the announcement.
Labour councillor Sue Percy praised the new developments arguing they would “provide 34 much needed apartments for families in the area.”
However she added, “Residents are also asking for shops and other facilities, and we will continue to push for these. Labour Councillors have worked continually with the Council and residents to get the Regeneration started and now it is positive to see construction starting – a step in the right direction.”
Green councillor Jo Bird said she was delighted the plans had been approved, adding, “Many people tell me that New Ferry has been left behind by authorities including national and local government. Six years after the devastating explosion, not a single brick has been laid to rebuild New Ferry town centre. New, affordable, warm homes are urgently needed here.
“The plans will also bring more welcome restrictions on anti-social driving on the pedestrian precinct in the district centre.
“Our community is disappointed there are no new shops in this application, and understands some nearby derelict shops are being brought back into use, including by New Ferry Community Land Trust.”
Wirral Council and The Regenda Group declined to comment.
The full list of candidates in Bromborough are as follows:
Brenda Ashton (Labour)
Jo Bird (Green)
Gillian Byrne (Conservatives)
Des Drury (Conservatives)
Finlay Gordon (Labour)
Eleanor Johnson (Conservatives)
Stephanie McGarry-Gribbin (Freedom Alliance. Stop the Great Reset)
Ruth Molyneux (Green)
Kieran Murphy (Green)
Sue Percy (Labour)
Main image: Mark Anthony Craig, Chair of New Ferry Residents Association, standing in front of the explosion site. Credit: Edward Barnes