Wirral Council faces tight deadline for housing project on former House of Fraser site

Wirral Council may need to find more than £2 million by March next year if it can’t deliver plans to build over 80 homes in time.

In 2020, Wirral Council decided to buy the former House of Fraser store at 92 Grange Road in Birkenhead as part of its plans to regenerate the town centre.

In March the following year it then fully reimbursed these costs using £2.1m of government housing funding which supports housing development on brownfield sites.

However, no plans have been published on how the council will deliver homes on the site despite the local authority being 16 months behind an original deadline and earlier warnings that further delays were “likely to seriously compromise the ability” to deliver any scheme by a March 2025 deadline.

Wirral Council said it was hoping to bring forward plans “as soon as possible”.

The council originally planned for a new Birkenhead Market to be built on the site alongside between 84 and 89 homes but those plans were scrapped in December. 

The local authority previously said a new market and housing could be supported but emails previously seen by the LDRS suggest officers put the brakes on the House of Fraser market plans in May 2023.

When the funding was awarded in 2021 for the site, a Wirral Council report said under the agreement, “the full planning consent for residential housing must have been submitted by no later than 30 September 2022 and the Council by then must have appointed either a development partner or devised a satisfactory route to delivery of residential housing.”

In March 2023, councillors on the local authority’s regeneration committee asked for a delivery partner to be appointed as soon as possible. A report brought before that meeting said any delay was “likely to seriously compromise the ability to appoint a delivery partner, secure planning consent, achieve a start on site and defray Brownfield Housing Land deficit funding (should this be required) and complete the delivery of 84 residential units on this site by 31 March 2025.”

The former House of Fraser being demolished. Credit: Edward Barnes

The funding for the site came through the Brownfield Land Release Fund, a government grant handed out by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority across the region. According to a July 2023 combined authority report, the money needs to be spent and housing building started by March 2025 at the latest.

The July report added each project would require “standard due diligence in terms of proving market failure,” “a benefit-cost ratio of at least one,” prove to be good value for money, and pass a government Greenbook appraisal.

Wirral Council was asked when it plans to deliver this as well as have a delivery partner appointed for the project, a planning application submitted and approved, and start work before March 2025. It did not provide a timeline.

A council spokesperson said, “Wirral is about to see investment totalling more than £100 million into parts of the borough in the next few years, with some Brownfield Land Fund contributing to this.

“This regeneration is a massive and highly complex undertaking and one which will see the order and even extent of some projects changed to meet circumstances of the time, including changing costs, availability of land and other investment sources.

“On the former House of Fraser site demolition works have started to facilitate the development of mixed-use accommodation.

“The council is working with Wirral Growth Company and other stakeholders to bring forward proposals for redevelopment as soon as possible to meet the requirements of the Brownfield Land Fund.”

A spokesperson for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said, “We are in regular dialogue with Wirral Council about the Grange Road project and are working with them to help develop the right scheme for the site.

“There has been no indication that any funding will be handed back. The Brownfield Land Fund exists to enable residential developments, so those conversations will continue and we look forward to seeing what schemes are brought forward.”

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