New homes to revive New Ferry could be ‘bigger disaster’ than explosion

New homes planned to revive a Merseyside town would be “a bigger disaster” than an explosion that tore through its high street seven years ago, according to community leader.

On Thursday, 18 April, councillors are being asked to approve the creation of 43 new affordable homes on the Woodhead Street car park in New Ferry. It is the next phase of plans to regenerate the town following an explosion that took place in March 2017.

The explosion tore through the town’s high street, destroying businesses and homes, injuring 81 people, making 78 people homeless overnight and leaving 28 businesses closed behind police cordons.

Seven businesses were destroyed and never reopened and since then, those who live in the town argue it has continued to see a decline.

The new green space that could be created under the plans for Woodhead Street car park. Credit: John McCall Architects

Wirral Council has been working with its partner, the Regenda Group, to develop plans to provide new homes in the town centre including on the site of the explosion itself alongside funding to improve the high street. Work has already begun on new homes on two sites.

The plans for the third site on Woodhead Street Car Park are coming to the council’s planning committee after being met by 18 objections and a petition signed by 330 people who are concerned about the loss of a car park in the area.

They argue this will impact nearby homes and businesses and that the plan goes against a public consultation which had support for keeping the car park.

The development, if approved, will involve a new apartment block, terraced housing, as well as a new green space in the middle of the site with 33 homes and 10 flats. In total, 77 homes are planned so far as part of New Ferry’s regeneration.

New flats could be built on the former COOP building in New Ferry. Credit: John McCall Architects

Mark Craig from the New Ferry Residents Association argues if the car park is built upon, people will stop visiting the town’s remaining shops who won’t use other car parks because of antisocial behaviour problems. He said, “If this proposal goes ahead, this will be a bigger disaster for the businesses than the explosion in 2017 because their customers will have nowhere to park.”

He urges the council to listen to those raising concerns pointing to previous plans that included car parking but more flats instead. He said the council should “go back to keep some form of car park even if it’s just 20 or 30 spaces for people and resubmit it and get it through.

Referring to the petition, he said, “I think it should tell Wirral Council that they need to listen and respond to local people’s concerns.” Mr Craig previously told the LDRS he had been fighting for New Ferry’s regeneration for 24 years and felt personally let down.

United Utilities, which manages the sewer network across the UK has also expressed concerns as “existing public sewers pass through this site which modelling data identifies as being at risk of sewer flooding.” It asked for Regenda to work with United Utilities as “the finished floor levels of several proposed properties are close to main sewer which is susceptible to surcharging.”

It said the risk of sewer flooding needs to be looked at further in case it also increased flood risks elsewhere and a water main that runs under the site “must not be built over”.

In its application, Regenda has said the homes would be “visually attractive and energy efficient homes,” adding, “The proposed development will establish and maintain a strong sense of place, creating an attractive, welcoming and distinctive housing development which aims to reduce its impact on the environment and local ecosystems.

“The scheme is designed to be safe, inclusive and accessible while promoting health and well-being via the provision of appropriate private gardens and terraces and public open space and as such would be an asset to the local area.”

A Wirral Council spokesperson previously said, “Wirral Council’s commitment to the regeneration of New Ferry has been unwavering. It has been a painstaking process – and has required significant investment from the council in recent years – to acquire all the land and property within the three sites to get the development to this stage.

“We are grateful to residents and businesses in the area for their patience and understanding while this process has been ongoing.”

The local authority argues the car park “has been significantly under-used for several years, with the most recent survey showing optimum occupancy at 30%” and other car parks could accommodate demand. It has recommended the plans are approved subject to agreements being in place as well as a number of conditions.

Planning applications for a new childrens’ home in Egremont and changes to a development at the former Hoylake Town Hall are also up for consideration.

Lead image: Mark Craig, Chair of New Ferry Residents Association, standing in front of the explosion site said the application “would be the biggest disaster to hit New Ferry since the explosion.” Credit: Edward Barnes

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