New plans for Hilbre Island buildings

Derelict buildings on a beautiful island could become a new scientific research base and art studio as plans move forward.

At an environment and transport committee on 12 March, Wirral Council agreed to lease out several buildings on Hilbre Island near West Kirby to the Hilbre Community Land Trust on a peppercorn rent for 30 years.

This will be a first step to support the trust to establish a base on the island, repair the derelict buildings, and begin plans for the new art studio and research spaces.

The island sits within a nature reserve as well as the Dee Estuary site of special scientific interest meaning any changes to the buildings from the outside will be minimal but aim to preserve them in the long run.

The trust is made up of a number of community organisations including the British Art and Design Association (BADA), Friends of Hilbre Island, and Hilbre Bird Observatory.

The 30-year lease is being granted to the trust to enable them to bid for funds and raise money to do up the buildings. A first phase is planned for basic works so the buildings can be occupied following by a second that would need planning permission to invest in Fog Cottage and Telegraph House.

In 2018,  the council commissioned a report to understand the potential and options for securing the future of Hilbre Island. The report said the council should consider “a managed decline of the properties or at least maintaining the status quo” and “any commercial opportunities on the island would be extremely limited.”

Cllr Allan Brame said he was delighted the plans had come forward after he was first approached by BADA about using the listed buildings several years ago. After the meeting, he told the LDRS, “The buildings were just going to deteriorate because we didn’t have the resources to maintain them.

“We couldn’t afford to lose them but we couldn’t afford to maintain them. This is going to bring artists and scientists to the Wirral and it’s going to secure their future.”

BADA CEO Terry Duffy, Friends of Hilbre Island chair Dave Gregson, and Dominic Wilkinson from Bada

BADA CEO Terry Duffy has been working on the plans for several years with initial plans for an art studio which has now developed to include scientific research given the level of interest in Hillbre’s unique animals and plants, particularly with students.

Mr Duffy said, “It’s a gem. It’s Wirral’s gem,” adding, “You can blame Covid for this. During lockdown, I was taking my dog out for a walk and I went over there to draw. Then I noticed this whole set of buildings that the average person wouldn’t notice at all but I just saw this buildings as a potential opportunity.”

The proposal also has the full endorsement of the island’s community group. Friends of Hilbre chair Dave Gregson said, “I am delighted because this has been a long drawn out process and we have had major concerns about the buildings. They have been falling into disrepair and it’s long overdue.”

He added, “The coastline and the wildlife is the greatest priority but the buildings are part of that as well. Hillbre is very much at the heart of the Wirral and everybody you speak to has been there and they have fond memories of it.

“For the last 100 years, it has been a reserve but it hasn’t had a use. Those buildings will now have a purpose and of course we will hope the community supports us on this.”

At the same meeting, councillors also unanimously approved a new policy for Christmas lights as well as plans for a number of changes to Wirral roads to improve safety including new 20mph speed limits.

Images: Ed Barnes

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