Wirral Council failed to mention it spent £400,000 on new company plans in a major report.
On 13 December, councillors approved a new partnership with Homes England and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority that will oversee the development of 21,000 homes and 6,000 new jobs for Birkenhead. The partnership will help create “a joined-up approach,” attract external investment, and ensure funding is spent.
However, the report councillors based their decision on didn’t mention the council has been pursuing another option for the last four years to deliver its regeneration plans, which the local authority received £705,000 from the government to develop in 2020.
In 2022, the council gave £330,000 of this to consultant company Deloitte to develop a strategic business case for how it will buy land, develop and relocate businesses as well as look at setting up an urban development corporation (UDC).
A UDC is a government-sponsored firm tasked with delivering and encouraging urban development in an area. An example of a UDC is the now wound-up Merseyside Development Corporation which included developing the Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984, and the redevelopment of the Albert Dock.
In January 2023, Wirral Council contracted Deloitte again to develop a business case for £400,000 over two years and a notice was published on the council’s website. However, one councillor said he was not aware of this contract.
According to council documents from April 2023, the corporation proposal was pursued as part of plans for “a bespoke delivery vehicle for Birkenhead’s regeneration” with a draft business case submitted in March 2023. According to documents in June, a final case would be submitted in the late summer.
The corporation would work closely in line with the council’s 2040 Framework for Birkenhead, an ambitious plan to build thousands of homes and offices, and create new opportunities in the town. The framework is also a key part of the local authority’s draft Local Plan which aims to build thousands of homes in urban areas in eastern Wirral.
The local plan is currently under government inspection and to back up the council’s case, the local authority said it had set up a transition board with Homes England and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in March 2023 with regeneration staff assigned to develop plans for areas across Wirral.
The April document said the transition board would lead to a locally led programme under the corporation being established by spring 2024. The document published in June also said the transition board was finalising the council’s one-year strategic plan, three-year resource plan, and five-year delivery plan to cover developments at Wirral Waters, Birkenhead town centre, Woodside, Hind Street, and Seacombe.
However, the report published ahead of a Policy and Resources committee meeting on 13 December suggested the council has not considered this option and did not mention the above work to develop a business case already.
The December report said the council could pursue a number of options including a UDC but “such options are not in scope.” It also said “the Council could seek to set up or collaborate in ranging from Urban Development Corporation or similar” and “these require a considerable amount of due diligence, business case assembling and planning even to reach a feasibility study stage.”
It failed to mention the council has already developed a business case and said, “Options in this regard can be considered in due course taking into account the developing work and scope of the Wirral Regeneration Partnership.”
Asked why the UDC plans were left out of the report, a spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “The proposal to set up an Urban Development Corporation had been an option under consideration by the council in recent years. However, more recently and in light of the council’s success in joining the Government’s pilot Simplification Pathfinder project, members of the policy and Resources Committee have now agreed to establish a Wirral Regeneration Partnership.
“This brings together a wide range of local expertise and knowledge to steer, support and coordinate the council’s key projects including the Birkenhead 2040 Framework and emerging Masterplans which underpin our ambitious regeneration programme.
“Urban Development Corporations, or similar, require a considerable amount of due diligence, business case assembling and planning even to reach a feasibility study stage. Some work had been carried out to examine this – and other options – and this remains of value as it is not ruled out that these may be considered in due course to build on the work of the Wirral Regeneration Partnership.”
Image: Visual of what the Hind Street development could look like. Credit: Ion Developments