Some Birkenhead Market traders are considering leaving following weeks of uncertainty about its future.
The current market sits in the centre of Birkenhead behind the bus station and has existed in some form or other since 1835 when it was first established.
There are currently 35 traders in the market according to Wirral Council’s website and there were plans to move these to a brand new market by 2025 following the demolition of the old House of Fraser on Grange Road. A consultation on these plans earlier this year was carried out by the council with traders generally optimistic about its potential.
In September, however, Wirral Council acknowledged it was reviewing the plans and it was later reported by the LDRS this involved a move of the market to the former Argos store on Princes Pavement. According to the council, this will be temporary.
Since then, the local authority has spent £24,000 of grant funding on a feasibility study of the Argos unit it said can hold 64 ten-by-ten metre stalls. It’s understood to have also submitted to the government a plan to use £6m of the original grant funding on refurbishing Argos and £1.5m on the previous plans for the brand new market at House of Fraser.
Will Featherstone, a market trader publicly criticised the plans calling them “grossly unfeasible” at a recent council meeting and Birkenhead councillor Pat Cleary on X, formerly Twitter, said it was “very concerning” and “raised big questions about procedures within the council.”
In response to criticism, a Wirral Council spokesperson said, “The future of Birkenhead Market is of paramount importance to Wirral Council. The Market will be a vital part in the regeneration plans for the town centre and it is critical the Market is delivered in the right way.
“At this stage, the council continues to look at all options to relocate Birkenhead Market, both in the short and longer terms. As has been reported an initial feasibility study has been completed looking at existing town centre retail premises now owned by the council as a potential temporary site for traders.”
However many market traders said they’ve had little or no communication with the council on potential plans calling the experience stressful due to uncertainty about its future affecting their business. One trader said four or five stalls were going at the end of December.
In response to a previous article on Birkenhead News, a Wirral Council spokesperson said a meeting will take place with traders very soon.
They added, “This meeting will be an opportunity for all traders to discuss an inclusive approach to securing the future of Birkenhead Market with the team working on this project, and they are encouraged to use this opportunity to do so. Details of this will be shared with traders as soon as they are available.”
For some, this could be an opportunity for relations to improve. Tommy Roberts, (pictured, lead image) who runs a butchers in the market and sits on the committee for its traders’ association, said, “I think the Argos has got to be better than this, as long as it’s just a temporary thing but long term I don’t see it.”
He added, “Obviously there is stuff in the pipeline but they need to communicate with us more. If people were told what their intentions were, they would probably hold out,” adding, “I just feel we get overlooked and if we are not, come down and speak to us about it.
“Something does need to be done about the rents in here. We can’t lose any more than we have lost and the biggest hurdle is location. I think the council is alright, they just need to tell us more.”
He continued, “It’s a vicious cycle. Communication with the council has completely broken so we need to try and build that relationship again. It’s got to be better for both the council and traders, something’s got to give.”
A number of traders who spoke to the LDRS wished to remain anonymous. One said, “I don’t know what is going on with the council. We have heard nothing true at the moment, it’s really hard to stay here.”
He added, “Every week we have less traders, less customers. We have lost a lot of customers from Wallasey, they do not come here because there is nothing to see in the town and everything has closed. It’s really hard at the moment.”
Another said, “At the moment we do not know where we are. Apparently, as far as we know, the plans that were going ahead are probably being scrapped now. There’s nothing on the table.”
Some traders criticised the Argos plans for its location saying the market needed to be in the centre of the town. One trader said, “If that is the temporary, what is the permanent? That is what I need to know more than anything. If we are moving to a temporary site, what is happening with this site?”
They added, “Show me its benefits. Tell me something good about Argos. Is its position good? No, it’s terrible. Almost everything on that aisle is empty. The market needs to be central, it needs to be central to the town.”
Michaela Murtagh from Just Sew said, “It’s bad because people are just getting fed up and just going. A lot of people think that we have gone, that we’re not here anymore.
“That is really worrying because customers think we are already gone. There’s a lot of shops that are closing.”
She added, “We will look into moving into the new market. This shop has been here for a long time but we just don’t know anymore. All the money they spent on House of Fraser and it was a waste of time and energy.
“Argos, if it happens it happens. It feels like they are just going to pack up and go.”
Cllr Tony Jones, Chair of Wirral Council’s Economy, Regeneration and Housing Committee, previously said, “The council remains committed to delivering a new market in the heart of Birkenhead town centre which will be sustainable and affordable.
“In May 2023 the council bought the Pyramids and Grange shopping centres which now present opportunities not previously available.
“If any changes to previous proposals are brought forward they will continue to meet the wider regeneration plans for the borough and Birkenhead, as well as undergoing full consultation, including full engagement with market traders, before any final decisions are made.
“I would also like to remind everyone that Birkenhead Market remains open and there are dozens of traders there who would welcome your business and I urge people to use the historic and much-loved market as we work towards safeguarding its future for many more years to come.”
Lead image: Tommy Roberts from Moneysworth Butchers in Birkenhead Market. Credit: Edward Barnes