Plans for dockside ‘village’ could take step forward

Wirral Council is expected to take the next step on plans to build a new “village” including a dockside restaurant, shops, and art studios at Wirral Waters.

Egerton Village is a proposal by Peel L&P, the developer behind the Wirral Waters developments on the Birkenhead docks, to provide a dockside restaurant, bistro, a coffee shop, retail units, artist studios, workspaces as well as an outdoor event space. If it goes ahead, the project is estimated to create 49 full-time equivalent new jobs.

Planning permission was granted in 2019 for the development and councillors are now being recommended on 22 January to allow officers to change an agreement the local authority has with Peel L&P to move the development forward. This is subject to a number of conditions to ensure the funding is lawful and reduce any risks to Wirral Council.

In 2021, councillors approved making a grant for the Egerton project from the Wirral Waters Investment Fund, which is made up of money paid by businesses in the area as well as future business rates. An agreement was signed in February 2023 for the project’s funding by the council, which at that point would be delivered by Peel.

However, in May 2023, Wirral Council were informed Peel now wants to deliver the project through Starship Regeneration Egerton Village Limited, a new partnership between Peel and housebuilder Starship Group which is based at the Hythe in Wirral Waters.

According to the report, Peel has “put forward to the Council that this alternative arrangement will assist Peel by allowing them to free up development capacity to bring forward other key projects in the Wirral Waters regeneration programme.”

The project has previously been reported as being £4m but the latest report does not make public how big the council’s investment in the project is. However, the council grant would only cover 40% of the cost.

Render of the plans for Egerton Village as seen from East Float that were approved in 2019. Credit: OMI Architects

Wirral Council also said details had not been supplied by Peel or Starship regarding private sector investment but external financing would be needed. The local authority also wants Peel to remain the guarantor if it fails.

The local authority has been advised councillors should only agree to fund the project if Starship can demonstrate it can complete it, has a viable business plan, and any funding arrangements would not impact Peel guaranteeing the project went ahead.

These steps will reduce the risk for the council if the development fell through. For example in 2022, Urban Splash who were building 30 homes at Wirral Waters went into administration but Peel took over the developments following the collapse.

The council will also have make sure the funding complies with laws passed in 2022 around subsidies “in order to avoid the grant funding agreement being unlawful state subsidy.”

This means that for the project to go ahead, Starship Regeneration Egerton Village Ltd will need to enter a long lease for the site with the terms seen by the council and Starship can’t use the grant to pay Peel a price to buy the land above its market value.

Starship will also need to disclose any funding arrangements it has “which in the opinion of the Council are sufficient to enable it to start and complete the project and which will enable the Peel Guarantor to “step in” and complete the Project if Starship defaults and any external funder declines to do so.”

The council said, “Until Starship puts forward a viable business plan and sets out its external financing arrangements to meet the 60% of the cost not funded by the Council, it cannot be said that the novation (change) of the grant funding agreement would be lawful since without that additional finance the policy objective of the subsidy will not be achieved.”

Image: Render of the plans for Egerton Village as seen from Tower Road that were approved in 2019. Credit: OMI Architects

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Egerton Village as seen to the left in this render. Credit: Peel L&P