This article is in two parts: the first, immediately below, being a broad narrative of our recent visit to Wirral Waters and the second being an ‘interactive’ detailed look at each part of the regeneration of Wirral Waters, with many photographs and images.
Plans for Wirral Waters are bold. Nothing is being done in half measures. The plans take the very best ideas from successful waterfront cities around the world and incorporates them into a sustainable new community that will undoubtedly thrive in the coming months, years and decades ahead.
birkenhead.news visited the Wirral Waters site for a guided tour and spoke to Richard Mawdsley, Director of Development for Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters and also to Simon Humphreys, Director of House by Urban Splash.
Passing through the area, you may be forgiven for not realising that an incredible amount of groundwork and hidden infrastructure work has taken place, but so much has happened that nothing could be further from the truth. “What we’ve got now is a head of steam, a momentum, all of the hard work behind the scenes is all starting to pay off now. For us and our partners, it’s all about keeping that momentum going”, said Richard Mawdsley.
And it is certainly clear to see that the Four Bridges area is a hive of activity, with construction work on the new ‘hythe’ building taking shape nicely and preparation starting for ‘Egerton Village.’ Further along, the first foundations have been laid for the new Urban Splash residential project on the Northbank at Dock Road.
We take a look at the site for ‘Egerton Village’, a place that will help add to the local amenities, providing shops, restaurants, and cafes. Planning permission is in place, finance is being finalised and construction is expected to start later this year.
As we walk along Tower Road, Richard Maudsley points out the ongoing construction work, “The steel frames that you see is the ‘hythe’ project which is a new office building.” You may think that in the post-COVID world that offices may be a thing of the past. “Why are you building an office now with more people than ever working from home?”, Richard posits. “Well, we’re finding that organizations are looking to downsize, but take better quality and better performing accommodation from a sustainability point of view.”
The ‘hythe’ building isn’t being built directly for a client, in fact it is Birkenhead’s largest speculatively built office building in decades. And with the views over to the Liverpool waterfront, it is hard to imagine that there will be any problem in filling it with businesses employing local people.
Moving further down Tower Road, we come to the building that gave the road its name; the Central Hydraulic Tower. Jesse Hartley, who was responsible for many of Liverpool’s maritime structures – including the Albert Dock, designed the tower, which was completed in 1863. The design of the building was based on the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza Della Signoria, Florence, Italy.
The 110 ft tower and building sustained considerable damage from bombing during World War II and was repaired in a functional, rather than aesthetic manner. The building is now in a dilapidated state and has been unused for many years. However, plans are afoot to bring it back into use as the Maritime Knowledge Hub, which will be a national base for marine engineering research and development and survival training as well as providing business accelerator space for the maritime sector.
Of the hydraulic tower project, Richard said, “We’re going to refurbish the building and add a new-build extension. The purpose of the Maritime knowledge Hub is all about the skills and training and the industry within the marine and maritime sector.”
Richard continued, “This is one of two Grade II listed buildings that we’ve got within the dock estate, so we need to celebrate this and use it to retell the history of the docks. The history of the area is vitally important and it has an incredible history. This fantastic use [as the Maritime Knowledge Hub] is of national significance.”
Continuing along Tower Road and turning left onto Dock Road, Richard points out a plot of land that is currently being made into a pocket park. “It is going to be a beautiful park, a functional park; it’s south-facing and we can see it being used by residents as a village green. What COVID has taught us is that people need more outside space and we were on the right lines, because we designed these outdoor spaces before COVID hit.”
This brings us to the area where the Urban Splash development is taking shape. On its integration into the whole Wirral Waters project, Simon Humphreys, Director of House by Urban Splash said, “One of the big things with us is this has got to be a part of Wirral Waters, not a gated community within Wirral Waters, so there are various devices we’ve employed for privacy purposes whilst keeping it open.”
Some of the houses being built by Urban Splash front onto the walkway along the side of the dock, which will be open to the public, so residents and visitors will have views of the dock and across the river. Answering a question about interest from potential buyers, Simon Humphreys said, “We’ve got quite a lot of local interest from people from Wallasey, from Birkenhead and there’s been more interest created as the project takes shape.”
Simon’s enthusiasm for helping to create a brand new community for Wirral is self-evident. Through his description of the area you can see that it will be lived in by mixed residents, right the way from young families to retired couples, creating a true mixed demographic community, with easy access to all the right local amenities from shops and restaurants just around the corner, to green spaces and public spaces, to access to and integrated public transport system right on the doorstep.
Between now and the end of 2025 when the Tower Road, Four Bridges and the Dock Road, Northbank will be completed, a total of £220m will have been invested in the area. But, very surprisingly, this vast area represents only 5-6% of the total area that Wirral Waters covers, which shows just how huge is the extent of the whole project. “Now, it’s about making sure we get all of these projects right, all the right supporting infrastructure to enable these projects to happen, the right approach to ‘place’, make these a real success, make sure that there’s job opportunities for local people, and then we can get on to the next phase.” said Richard, with so much passion and enthusiasm that he forgot to take a breath. “It’s about getting these crucial neighbourhood living areas right, and then we can move on to the next phases.”
So, to answer the question in the headline, “What is happening at Wirral Waters?” — a lot — a lot is happening — and a lot has happened so far — To coin a phrase, “From small seeds mighty trees grow” and these seeds are starting to flourish and mature at Wirral Waters.
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Belong Wirral will provide leading dementia care and accommodation for over 100 people. Each resident will have access to 24-hour care and nursing support in extended family-sized households and independent living apartments.
Alongside this, Belong Wirral will create a purpose-built village that offers residents and the general public a range of facilities, including a bistro, hair salon, exercise studio and function rooms; all designed to promote maximum engagement with local communities.
Beyond this centre, the complex includes housing options to cater for a spectrum of abilities, including 34 one and two-bedroom apartments for independent living to six households which will provide 24-hour support, including nursing and dementia care, for up to 12 residents in each household.
Belong chief executive, Tracey Stakes, said, “We are thrilled to be entering the next stage of our Belong Wirral development.
“Wirral Waters is an exciting project to be a part of and provides an excellent location for us to create something of real benefit to the local community, both in terms of offering specialist dementia and nursing care and through generating over 140 jobs for people in the area.”
East Float Apartments
The historic East Float apartments in the Northbank neighbourhood are located in a waterside location on the docks at Wirral Waters.
In two blocks, the brick and stone Grade II listed buildings are former grain warehouses, built in 1868 to designs by G. F. Lister.
The Egerton Village scheme will provide a much-needed hub for the artistic and creative industries of Wirral. Following an architectural competition, architects OMI are working up the project that will be a waterside amenity and arts hub to support new occupiers and visitors to Wirral.
It will comprise of a restaurant, managed studio and workspace, retail units and a new public square for events.
Construction is scheduled to start this year.
The new business hub, named after the Old English for ‘a landing place or small harbour for ships or boats’, will be a place of still and calm, with open space and views.
Hythe will sit within the growing Four Bridges neighbourhood, home to the Wirral Met College and Kingsgate, and alongside future projects starting on site in the coming months, the Maritime Knowledge Hub and the Egerton Village creative arts hub. Four Bridges will continue to grow over the coming years and become a thriving, sustainable community.
hythe is under construction now, with expected completion in late 2021.
Designed by the award-winning Glenn Howells Architects, Hythe is being constructed by GMI Construction with completion expected in later this year. The business hub has been designed to set new standards in sustainability and will have a BREEAM-Excellent rating, placing it in the top 10% of all buildings for green credentials. (BREEAM is an assessment undertaken by independent licensed assessors using scientifically-based sustainability metrics and indices which cover a range of environmental issues. Its categories evaluate energy and water use, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes.) Hythe has also been designed to accommodate the latest innovations in digital connectivity.
Commenting on the commencement of construction in December 2020, Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram, said, “We’ve invested in the Wirral Waters site to ensure that we’re able to keep offering outstanding facilities and as a catalyst to attract new businesses and jobs to the area.
“Not only will these new facilities be some of the most advanced office space in the region, they will also be some of the greenest and most sustainable.”
Gallery: Artist’s impressions of the hythe office building
Gallery: The hythe office building under construction. Images: www.fotopiaimages.com
Kingsgate is a 48,000 sq ft office building, occupied by the Contact Company and there are currently 400 people working there with a capacity to increase to 1200.
The project, part of the Mersey Waters Enterprise Zone and located on Tower Wharf, was completed in November 2015. Financing was assisted by the Wirral Waters Investment Fund.
The building is rated BREEAM Excellent (BREEAM is an assessment undertaken by independent licensed assessors using scientifically-based sustainability metrics and indices which cover a range of environmental issues. Its categories evaluate energy and water use, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes.)
The project is a joint venture between Peel L&P, Wirral Council and the Legacy Foundation. It is a £90m development of one and two-bedroom apartments and affordable homes.
There will be 500 waterfront residences in this part of the Wirral Waters regeneration of which 20% will be affordable.
Preparatory groundwork on the brownfield site is complete and construction will start this year.
Maritime Knowledge Hub
This £23m industry-led, education, research and development, skills and innovation commercial centre of excellence will once again place the Liverpool City Region (LCR) at the heart of the maritime and marine industries.
Built around the iconic Grade II listed Hydraulic Tower, modelled on the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the Maritime Knowledge Hub will be Wirral’s solution to the industrial skills shortage in the Liverpool City Region.
The Maritime Knowledge Hub is backed by local, regional and national government and is being developed by the maritime industry, for the maritime industry. Partners delivering the project include Mersey Maritime, Peel L&P, Wirral Council, and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
It is a nationally significant project, backed by the Department for Transport’s Maritime 2050 strategy. What Silicon Valley has done for the technology industry, the Maritime Knowledge Hub will do for the maritime and marine industries.
From marine engineering research and development to survival training and business accelerator space, the Maritime Knowledge Hub will offer world-leading facilities that will put tenants on course for success. Featuring 60,000 sq ft of collaborative space, state of the art research and development facilities and a café/restaurant and visitor portal, the Maritime Knowledge Hub will be an international beacon of progressive maritime thinking and action.
The Maritime Knowledge Hub will feature:
- The Maritime Technology Centre.
- The Offshore Survival Training Centre.
- The Marine Simulation and Training Centre.
- A HydroLab.
- 60,000 sq ft of collaborative space.
- State of the art research and development facilities.
To sensitively and effectively re-develop the Hydraulic Tower, Peel L&P went through a design competition to select a design team. Danish architectural practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen and local firm Ellis Williams Architects were shortlisted to design the Maritime Knowledge Hub.
During the competition Schmidt Hammer Lassen founding partner, Morten Schmidt, described the thoughts behind the subsequent concept design, saying, “Designing a complex that is one of the most transformative new developments in the Liverpool region called for thoughtful architectural design that respects the heritage of the existing building while looking towards the future.”
Chris Shirling-Rooke MBE, Chief Executive Officer of Mersey Maritime said, “Mersey Maritime is 100% committed to seeing the Maritime Knowledge Hub project come to fruition. It is absolutely vital in our view to the future of the maritime industry in the Liverpool City Region and is of significance to the wider regional economy and indeed nationally. We’ve backed it from the outset and are proud to continue to be a significant partner in its delivery.”
A Skills Factory, located at MEA Park, will enhance the industrial skills of the Liverpool City Region by offering degree level apprenticeships. These will be facilitated by the Manufacturing Technology Centre, a Government project established to drive skills in manufacturing.
Working in partnership with local colleges, including Wirral Metropolitan College and the North West Engineering College, the Skills Factory will incorporate state of the art campus facilities with classrooms and workshops designed and purpose-built for the teaching of industrial and manufacturing skills.
The Manufacturing Technology Centre, in conjunction with Peel Land & Property, has formally submitted a £4m funding application to the Liverpool City Region’s Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) to build the Skills Factory at Wirral Waters.
The plans for MEA Park and the Skills Factory will address a significant skills shortage and will deliver a positive social impact for the Liverpool City Region. This project is all about upskilling the City Region’s workforce and building on its key strengths and growth sectors, in particular, the energy sector, through offshore wind and civil nuclear, and the automotive industry.
Phase 1 will involve the conversion of the existing 42,000 sq ft Mobil building intended as a Government R&D Catapult Centre. This will be a research centre for modular construction and digital design. It is envisaged that Phase 2 will be a multi-unit project of circa 70,000 sq ft intended for engineering supply chains in the energy, maritime and automotive sectors.
Alongside the Maritime Knowledge Hub, MEA Park will form the industrial heart of Wirral Waters where over 20,000 permanent jobs will be created and where innovation, research, skills and training will drive industrial growth on a global scale.
MEA Park will build on key strengths and growth sectors, in particular, the Energy Sector – offshore wind and civil nuclear – as well as automotive in supporting Jaguar Land Rover in Halewood, GM Vauxhall and Bentley.
A renewable Energy Centre will deliver a 6MW biomass energy centre to serve MEA Park, potentially the Wirral Streetcar project and the wider neighbourhoods.
MEA Park is part of the Mersey Waters Enterprise Zone, which means that the local authority can retain 100% of business rates from tenants. These rates are then reinvested back into the Enterprise Zone to create jobs, rates and homes. This creates a recyclable fund which will benefit the area for the long term. The site also benefits from Enhanced Capital Allowances within the Enterprise Zone.
Project partners: Wirral Council and Cammell Laird.
Tower Road Streetscape
The £3.2million improvements to the Tower Road streetscaping for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers was completed in February 2021.
Linking to existing cycling and walking routes, the improvements made at Tower Road has made it easier for non-vehicular and foot traffic to travel between Birkenhead and Wallasey. It has made travelling around the borough on foot or bike accessible to more residents and supports the wider regeneration of the area.
Improvements to the northern section of Tower Road, between the entrance to Twelve Quays and the junction with Dock Road and Birkenhead Road, will take place in due course. This section will be the route that HGVs take when arriving or departing Twelve Quays, connecting to the M53 and Wallasey Kingsway Tunnel, via Dock Road and Gorsey Lane.
Throughout the duration of the project, local Wirral-based civil engineering contractor, Cambrianway, completed a significant amount of work in the area including:
- Widening of pavements
- Installation of new separate walking and cycling routes
- New crossing facilities
- Planting of 130 trees
Richard Mawdsley, Director of Development at Peel L&P’s Wirral Waters, said that “The Tower Road area of Wirral Waters is set to become a thriving community”
“This new streetscape project is an important part of making it a place where people are happy to live, work and visit.
“The streetscape has been designed to make active travel options such as cycling and walking as safe and easy as possible and is part of our wider strategy to attract new businesses and further investment to the area.
“The new Tower Road streetscape also places environmental considerations at the fore. With 130 new trees planted, new walking and cycling routes, Cycle Maintenance Hubs, and innovative drainage systems watering the trees – the street makes many positive contributions to Wirral’s Climate Action Plan.”
Gallery: Photographs taken shortly after the road reopened in February 2021. Images: www.fotopiaimages.com
Urban Splash at Northbank, East Float
The development of the Northbank of the East Float at Wirral Waters by modern housebuilder, House by Urban Splash, has introduced a new type of modular housing.
This new type of house, known as Row House, has been designed by Liverpool-based architects shedkm. House by Urban Splash is creating the East Float neighbourhood at Wirral Waters in joint venture partnership with Peel L&P, creating around 350 homes using modern methods of construction including these first-ever Row House homes.
Guy Ackernley, residential sales director at House by Urban Splash, explained, “Urban Splash was founded in Merseyside, creating hundreds of thousands of sq ft of workspace as well as city centre apartments in Liverpool; 28 years on we’re immensely proud to be back in the region, introducing a totally new concept – just as we did back in the 1990s.”
Row House represents a modern mews house, or ‘Urban Cottage’, bringing a more compact terrace form to the portfolio at an affordable price range, meaning more people can get on the housing ladder with a home customised to meet their individual lifestyle needs.
Row House comes in a choice of three sizes with the same footprint; two storey, two and a half storey with a roof terrace, and three-storey. As with all House by Urban Splash homes, layouts can all be customised by the buyer to suit their lifestyle and taste.
The Row House for Wirral Waters features a characterful industrial red metal cladding, designed in keeping with the neighbourhood’s distinctive Docklands architecture. Each home will also come with a private terrace, as well as access to a shared residents’ garden.
In addition to the Row House design, there will also be a design called Town House. There will be 15 configurable Town House homes at the East Float. Town House can be configured to suit the buyer with 3 to 5 bedrooms. Buyers can choose whether they prefer loft living, with the living space on the top floor making the most of the pitched ceilings and elevated views, or garden living, with your living space on the ground floor, giving access to your private terrace and communal gardens.
Gallery: Artists’ impressions of the red Row Houses and white Town Houses.
Gallery: Groundwork and foundations at Northbank, in readiness for construction of Urban Splash’s residential project. Images: www.fotopiaimages.com
Wirral Met College
Wirral Met College was the first building to be completed at Wirral Waters, opening in September 2015.
It is a 38,000 sq ft further education college, specialising in construction. The project won two RIBA Awards and a Civic Trust Award.
The campus provides a Skills and Enterprise Centre for local employers and plays a key part in the regeneration of the wider economy.
Morgan Sindall and Wirral Met College involved students at every stage of the design and construction of the campus development, and provided learning opportunities to existing Wirral Met construction students, giving them an insight into all aspects of a major construction project and first-hand experience on a live project.
Wirral Street Car
East Wirral benefits from a unique set of circumstances to enable the project to happen including: an existing Heritage Tram system, second hand rolling stock, existing re-usable track and positive Central Government support.
Furthermore, the project harks back to Birkenhead’s pioneering past being the first place in Europe to have a Street Tram. Project partners: Merseytravel and Wirral Council.