New video shows how Birkenhead Market traders hope to transform Marks and Spencer

A new video shows how traders hope to turn a vacant Marks and Spencer store into an independent market.

Birkenhead Market traders are currently exploring how to set up a trader-led independent market within the former Marks and Spencer unit in Birkenhead.

A market has existed in some form in the town since 1835 but traders are currently looking to go their own way following a controversial decision by Wirral Council to turn a former Argos unit on Princes Pavements into the market’s new location by 2026.

Marks and Spencer left the town centre store in 2018 and is signed onto a lease until 2042 for £235,000 a year according to a property document. In an email sent to trader Alan Featherstone, the company said it is open to letting a new Birkenhead Market be run from the premises with traders helping pay the lease.

The idea of a new market in the vacant unit on St Johns Square was first put forward in 2019 and proved popular with traders.

However, Wirral Council considered it too expensive as Marks and Spencer would have to give up their lease and the local authority didn’t own the Pyramids Shopping Centre at the time.

In April, Mr Featherstone, who runs The Big Flower Shop with his son Will, applied for a market rights licence which if granted gives the opportunity for a new market to operate in the borough. The council’s policy was established to help “protect the commercial success of the [Birkenhead] market and make commercially minded decisions that support its traders”.

Now traders have appealed for people to contact Wirral Council’s licensing department to give their opinions on the proposal “because we need all the support we can get”. In a post on social media, traders told people to “to tell the council what you want in Birkenhead” before a 28 May deadline.

They argue M&S would be “a suitable location” as a “very small” Argos “will have a detrimental impact on numerous market traders’ in Birkenhead Market” Traders who spoke to the LDRS previously said they were supportive of the Marks and Spencer proposal, believing this is their only option to keep long-running family businesses going.

Inside the vacant Marks & Spencer store in 2024

Mr Featherstone thinks the community market could complement the council’s plans to regenerate Birkenhead and complement any different market offer in Argos, adding, “What it would also do is offer the council the opportunity to demolish the current market quicker which would help them get rentals into their office buildings.”

He previously said, “It’s trying to move forward in a positive way. All traders want this. So far I have had only one who said ‘I am not going to do that because when this market closes I am going to retire’. I want the council to see the logic in this, see it as a good idea for the town centre and traders.”

Having run a business for many years, Mr Featherstone said, “What I am trying to do is pay that back to the next generation,” adding, “This is the right thing to do because I do not think we will meet the criteria set by the council. It will mean the loss of jobs as well as our business.”

The costs for the refurbishment are expected to be paid for by Mr Featherstone himself as well as some traders with a figure of around £1m put forward.

He said, “It isn’t something where we are going to have to start knocking down walls,” adding, “You will see as you walk in when you come through the main door all the stores in the middle which are below eye level.

“You will be able to see every stall trading. It will be wide and open and clean and you can see every stall full.”

The plans put forward by traders will still be subject to a lease being agreed with Marks and Spencer. Wirral Council as the current owners of the Pyramids Shopping Centre will also need to approve the lease as well as any potential planning consent that may be needed.

After some traders expressed concern “the council wouldn’t allow it,” a spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “Work on delivering the new Birkenhead Market remains a key focus of the authority’s ambitions for Birkenhead town centre.

“The council will continue to work with the Birkenhead Market Traders Association (BMTA) and engage with traders on the proposals for the new Birkenhead Market.

“The intention is to provide a sustainable and popular market and the proposals have followed a number of meetings between council staff, market experts and those trading at Birkenhead Market to find the best way this can be achieved.”

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