Update on £25m Maritime Knowledge Hub

An update has been given on £25m plans to deliver a new maritime research hub in Wirral Waters.

The Maritime Knowledge Hub is a proposal by Peel Waters to turn the derelict Central Hydraulic Tower opposite the Stena Line ferry terminal in Birkenhead into a world-class maritime research centre.

The centre will look at researching how to make the maritime industry more environmentally friendly.

Planning permission has already been granted for the scheme but the project has faced a delay.

Wirral Council, who had originally agreed to fund the project based on a 250-year lease, said this plan was now unviable following a rise in interest rates and other options to fund the scheme needed to be explored if it was to move forward.

The former boiler room in the hydraulic tower. Credit: Edward Barnes

Councillors are being asked at a meeting on 27 March to allow the local authority’s Director of Regeneration and Place David Hughes to develop the plans further with a more detailed report to be brought on plans at a future committee. The development if it goes ahead promises to provide hundreds of jobs.

According to a council report, the development is reliant on terms being agreed between Peel and the council as well as an agreed funding model with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

This needs to be completed by the end of June 2024 so a deadline of March 2026 can be achievable for public funding to go towards the project.

According to the report, “it is unlikely that the owner of the property would be able to bring forward the proposal on their own. Intervention by the Council is needed to support the development of the site, in large part due to the significant level of investment that is needed.”

The Central Hydraulic Tower in its heyday. Credit: Birkenhead in Pictures and Postcards

The report said, “The hydraulic tower is symbolic of both the rise and decline of Birkenhead and maritime industry associated with the docks. It is a prominent feature in the immediate area and its development could be symbolic of the re-emergence of Birkenhead from the economic decline it has faced over a significant period.”

Funding from the combined authority is expected to be £12.6m under current plans which will come through freeport and strategic investment funding. Wirral Council is also looking to take a 50-year lease of the finished building and would then make money back by getting rent from building occupiers.

According to the report, this could come with some risks as “even assuming that the accommodation was to perform above normal market expectations the Council could face a liability based on rent alone” and there was “no guarantee that the rent would continue to support the investment over the whole term of the lease.”

However due to developments like the nearby Hythe “achieving rent levels previously not secured in Birkenhead,” the local authority is assuming rents could be the same or higher than current trends in the town.

Lead image credit: Peel L&P

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