Jayne Dowle’s Focus On: West Kirby

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At Morrisons' car park in West Kirby a woman drives up in a Rolls Royce and a fur hat. She is not the least bit aware that she looks ridiculous, and waves regally to another woman in a fur hat. The wind off the Irish Sea whips around them. As they hurry into the supermarket, they don't even glance at the amazing view, a vista of water where the Dee estuary meets the world.

No-one in the genteel Wirral resort of West Kirby can remember any fuss being made when the hulking red-brick supermarket – formerly Safeway – was plonked on this prominent site on the seafront. But everyone in West Kirby knows about the fuss being made about the plans to put a £10m hotel on the public car park in front of Morrisons, as part of the plans to regenerate the town and its neighbour, Hoylake.

"It's not that we're against redevelopment," says local Conservative councillor, Gerry Ellis, "It's just that what the developer is putting forward is much too big for the site. The original plan was for a two-storey building, with 40 bedrooms. Everything has had to be doubled, because we're told it wouldn't be commercially viable otherwise."

Plans for the hotel, known as Sail, are being developed by Carpenter Investments, owned by Alan Beer, director of Wirral-based Beers Timber & Building Supplies, and Dave Brewitt, who owns and runs the Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool. The company won the bid after a competition held by Wirral Council, and have engaged cool London-based architects Studio Egret West.

West KirbyThe hotel has 80 bedrooms, all sea-facing, a spa and swimming pool, plus retail and restaurant space, and replacement car parking. The scheme will also rebuild the sailing school, which adjoins the Marine Lake. Built in the 1960s, it is certainly past its best.

"I'm a resident in West Kirby," says Beer, "And this spot is the most spectacular on the North West coast. It is however, something of a hidden gem. We believe the hotel will not only be used by local people, but for overnight stays, small conferences, product launches and special events."

West Kirby, developed by the Edwardians into a seaside suburb, has long been popular with day-trippers. Commuter trains take less than half-an-hour to Liverpool Lime Street. Property prices are higher than regional and national averages; at least £300,000 (Land Registry), and reflect the fact that most of the local money is earned in the cities of Liverpool, Chester and Manchester. There is a moratorium on residential new-build.

Beer and Brewitt believe that West Kirby could become the seaside destination of choice for discerning visitors from Manchester and beyond. The scale and design of the hotel matches their ambitions. You can see why conservative locals are unhappy, but it does respond to the site quite spectacularly. "There is no reason why this building can't be a Stirling Prize winner," says Brewitt.

The town centre is compact, and at lunchtime, populated mostly by older shoppers and well-heeled mothers wheeling children in buggies. The butcher is doing a brisk trade, the cafes are busy, but there are noticeable empty units. Some of the shops still have glass and wrought iron canopies; there are plans to renovate these as part of Wirral Council's regeneration masterplan, which wants to turn West Kirby into "an accessible, attractive, elegant 'classic resort', with the potential… to evolve into a regional recreational resort".

Talk about changing hearts and minds. Usually it means persuading the beleaguered residents of some post-industrial slum that demolition is the best thing for it. But in West Kirby, it is a much more subtle process. It's as if the town is standing on the edge of modern transition, looking in and wondering if it dare jump. The prospect of change goes beyond the physical environment; it threatens the very social fabric of the place.

"The golf club is such a dominant force around here," says one mother in her forties, understandably wary of giving her name. "It dictates the social life, even amongst the younger end. There has to be an alternative to that – I know there is an alternative to that – so why can't we have it in West Kirby? I think this hotel could be what some of us need."

Kevin Adderley, head of strategic development for Wirral Council, has heard all the arguments about why West Kirby doesn't need regenerating. But, he says, "We do need to safeguard what we have got. It is clear that West Wirral is an extremely important asset, not only for leisure, but when it comes to companies relocating and looking for somewhere which can offer a good lifestyle minutes from a wonderful beach and a wonderful seaside town like West Kirby."

The ripples go further than the new hotel and sailing school. The Concourse sports centre, an ugly concrete block, looks like it could be heading for the skip. And along the seafront at the Sunset Lounge bar, proprietor Roger Jones has been given notice to quit. The Sunset Lounge, built as tearooms in the 1930s, adjacent to Coronation Gardens, is like an over-sized beach chalet with amazing views out across the Marine Lake towards Wales. With its mismatched chairs and beer mats, its ramshackle charm offers a refuge for West Kirby residents who don't aspire to wear fur hats to the supermarket.

"The council are planning to redevelop the park, and it looks like we're having to go with it," says Jones. "I'm gutted, obviously. There is nowhere else like this in West Kirby, see how welcoming we are to everyone…" – he gestures at an elderly lady in a wheelchair, bundled up in a blanket sipping a cup of tea – "the mums come here after school for a glass of wine while the kids play in the park. Where will they go now? And we have the only loos along here since the public ones were closed."

So what's in the plans when the sun finally sets on the Sunset Lounge? "What we are looking for, halfway along the prom, is more of a destination, more of a sort of a higher quality food and leisure offer," says Adderley. The big story in West Kirby is obviously the big hotel. But it is clear that this is not the only regeneration game in town.

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I don’t know which town you visited, most residents are not obsessed with Golf, drive Rolls Royces or wear fur coats.

Winning a stirling prize is not normally a good thing for the local community, award winners are generally built in the most fashonable style of the moment and date very badly, for example Peckham Library (Project Architect Christophe Egret).

The proposed hotel is in the wrong place, and is too large for the site.

Describing west kirby as a resort is stetching the truth, it’s always been a residential area with a few local day trippers. Changing the charcter of the town to a commercial hub may actually destroy the appeal of the town, rather than regenerating wirral as a whole.

By John Robinson

One of the key issues is the building of the hotel on the public Dee Lane car park which is crucial as a resource to support the town centre retailers, the Marine Lake and the role of the coast and Hilbre Island in attracting visitors from across the North-West. The hotel while providing a facility for a few will therefore badly affect the role of the town for all and the use of the coast for Marine and pleasure purposes. We have the most wonderful asset in the Marine Lake for water sports enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. Why cant we create value for West Kirby, the Wirral and the North-West by building on these pursuits. Yes – the hotel is being pushed forward by Wirral Council to fund the rebuilding of the sadly neglected and badly run Wirral Sailing School. Yet the plans drawn up are poorly-framed and ill-suited to the prestigious role of the lake as a mecca for water sports from across the North-West and for giving children interests and skills for the rest of their life – they even lack a workable arrangement for car parking. I suggest that Wirral Council start rethinking creating a sailing centre that meets an expanded role as well as serving existing uses – by starting again from basics rather than trying to fund a sailing school from the proceeds of a hotel on an impossibly constrainted site – with a Hilbre Island information centre, a chandlery, a first aid room, facilities for national wind-surfing championships and a centre of excellence. A hotel for West Wirral – yes please – but not in a place that directly affects West Kirby’s three prize assets – its town centre, its Marine Lake and its coast.

By Martin Harrison

Have we not learnt anything from Tesco’s total block of river views just down the road from West Kirby ? I can certainly remember strong objections when Safeway was first planned.
If we’re not careful we could ‘do a Stockport’ who concreted over the Mersey!!


I agree that West Wirral, in fact Wirral as a whole, could do with some more hotels but to try and put an 80 bed unit on such a small plot of land is ludicrous. Where will all those day-trippers park and what about the all those people who will come to stay in the hotel. Car-parking is difficult now without adding to the problem. At least we own the building where the present sailing school is but has anyone realised that the owners of this proposed hotel are being given the sailing school to knock down, rebuild then lease it back to our Council. This is outrageous.

By Joanna McIlhatton

Give away the public amenity and hope that Mr Beer and friends will lease you back part of it. Typical of the short term thinking of the last council and obsession with divesting themselves of any responsibility for public life. I watched the current sailing school being built in the late 1980s at the same time that the lake was extended. Not the 60s as stated here, its a modern building. West Kirby was developed by the Victorians, most of the building took place between 1885 and 1895. There are hotels and good quality B&Bs on the Wirral, most are struggling because there isn’t the demand. Day trippers don’t need hotels. The 1960’s style of the hotel should appeal to me looking as it does like the control tower from Stingray but sadly it looks tired even on paper.

By Stephen Brook

@John Robinson oh whatever west kirby’s fun so get over it

By Lucy

If they win a Stirling prize for that, I might have a go

By Simon Stainless

We spent Saturday evening in West Kirby, what a wonderful place to be. Lots of family’s enjoying the late afternoon sun. What peace we enjoyed, it was so relaxing and just as an English seaside resort should be. WHY would any one want to change this wonderful seafront,is it because it is enjoyed for free by the public?. Please do not change this wounderful town, if we were anywhere else in England there would have been a "area of historic interset" fence around West Kirby years ago. Oh also wanted to sign a petition to help stop this nonsense but could not find one would someone please send me some detail? Thanks

By A Rood

I was born and raised in West Kirby but left it 30 years ago. The idea of a new hotel is very appealing to me as I would definitely make use of it to revisit the town unlike now when there is no adequate accommodation close to the sea front. Time to move with the times without losing any of the charm and beauty and put some young blood into the town

By M.C.