Woodside U-boat museum plans set for greenlight

Plans for a new museum in Woodside are expected to be given the go ahead later this week.

In October 2023, Big Heritage CIC which runs the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool revealed its plans to revamp and completely transform the U-Boat Story Museum in Birkenhead as it seeks to get planning permission from Wirral Council.

The project is being funded by part of a £19.6m levelling up grant which looks to introduce a new green space, improve the Woodside ferry terminal, and create a new international Battle of the Atlantic attraction.

The company said it is expecting to get planning approval later this week with spades in the ground by early summer. The new museum is currently expected to open sometime in August 2025 but will fully launch once £21m plans to improve the wider area are complete.

Much of the £19.6m grant has still not been spent but Big Heritage hopes the new museum will be one of the first projects delivered with the regeneration funding.

The new U-boat museum is also not the only project Big Heritage is developing in Woodside with plans to open two other museums in the area in the next two years.

The company took over the Wirral Transport Museum in 2023 and has been working on plans to double the size of that museum since. They hope to reopen it fully by the summer of 2026 as well as open a new museum at the Shore Road Pumping Station in the same year or 2027.

Plans for new U-Boat Museum. Credit: MGMA Architects

Dean Paton, Big Heritage’s CEO, said, “I think by 2026, we will have an offer on Woodside that will be the envy of any town in Merseyside. A huge strong new attraction. What is going to make people drive two hours to come to Birkenhead? You are not going to drive that distance for one thing as it’s not a full day out.”

Mr Paton said by linking the museums together with Western Approaches, it will help draw Liverpool’s many tourists over the water, adding, “Where is the audience? Our challenge is they are literally sailing off every day. There’s nothing for them to get off for. It’s a unique opportunity to capture that market.”

Pointing to Merseyside’s history with warship building at Cammell Laird and heavy bombing during the Blitz, he said, “It’s the perfect location for it. We are quite excited about it. It’s a big coup for Birkenhead and it’s the type of thing you see down in London,” adding: “The way we are going to present it as well is going to be really unique. All the pieces of the jigsaw are there.”

The new museum will take people through different levels seeing the U-boat including from underneath where you can see the damage left when it sank in World War Two. An American Grumman TBF Avenger bomber is also being brought in which was used to attack German submarines like the U-Boat.

A Grummann TBF Avenger, a World War Two bomber, will be displayed at the new museum. Credit: Big Heritage
The bomber is currently in storage. Credit: www.fotopiaimages.com

Work has already been done to protect the U-534 submarine from the elements while a 3-D scan of the entire U-boat takes people right inside. Mr Paton said this will be done every 12 months to monitor the condition of the submarine, adding “You will be able to dive into a wreck without getting your feet wet.”

The U-Boat Story closed in 2020 while the Transport Museum previously had to be subsidised by Wirral Council. However Mr Paton said, “We know what we are doing. We have got a track record. When you look at Western Approaches, it was derelict and got the odd visitor but now we have queues out of the door today. Sometimes things need a fresh look,” adding, “The U-Boat Story is a huge attraction but it’s not been utilised as well as it could be.

“It’s not another museum. The story is international. We have got some incredible artefacts and it’s the whole story. We notice at Western Approaches, we have got so many Americans and Canadians and their granddads had fought in the Battle of the Atlantic.”

As part of the redevelopment, there are plans for a new café, bar and events space to ensure the museum is a viable business in the long run in helping draw more people to Woodside. Mr Paton said, “That is the plan and that is what regeneration is about. That is what levelling up is about.

“Someone needs to be the first so we are going to be there and hopefully then the private sector will come in there. That might take another few years after but that is what the end game is, to see other enterprises start to open up and stay open.”

Lead image: Dean Paton, CEO of Big Heritage, said there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes to prepare for the redevelopment. Credit: Ed Barnes

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A fly-through 3D scan of the U-boat