Wirral chief executive Eric Robinson has called for the “transformation” of Birkenhead into a “younger, more vibrant” town, rather than a competitor to Liverpool, as part of the authority’s 15-year Local Plan.
Robinson said that while the proposed Local Plan, outlined earlier this week, would deliver “for the whole of Wirral”, one of the key areas was transforming Birkenhead to “reverse more than 50 years of decline”.
The local authority’s main approach will be the revitalisation of the town centre, with plans being drawn up to build a new civic centre housing 3,000 council staff, while the council has also bought the town’s market for redevelopment. These would be built alongside a leisure centre, and potential offices and residential, as part of the Wirral Growth Company partnership with Muse.
At Hamilton Square, Robinson said the focus would be on “attracting a younger, more vibrant offer” with student accommodation, cafes, shops, markets, and arts venues all on the table.
The area’s focus would be on a cultural and creative offering, alongside small commercial developments and the continued use of the town hall as a cultural and live music venue.
Empty buildings in the town and around Hamilton Square will be offered for meanwhile use while the development plans are being brought forward, he said.
Rather than trying to compete with Liverpool, he argued the offer of Birkenhead should be different: “We should be Brooklyn, rather than trying to become another Manhattan”.
Speaking at Place North West’s Meet The Authorities event, Robinson said the Local Plan was part of “bringing the council into the 21st century” and said the local authority was becoming “much more commercial and business-like” in its approach to regeneration.
Wirral’s Local Plan was outlined earlier this week, with the authority one of only three in the country that does not yet have a Local Plan in place.
The draft plan is set to cut the amount of green belt land in the borough from around 46% to 32% by releasing nearly 50 sites for development.
Sites across the borough have been put forward for green belt release in the Local Plan.
These vary in size but include 10 areas in Bebington; seven in Clatterbridge; eight in Eastham; and three in Heswall; as the council aims to deliver 800 homes per year over the next 15 years, adding up to 12,000 more houses across the borough through to 2033.
The council is targeting a “brownfield-first” approach to development and has earmarked a series of major sites for housing; the largest of the sites allocated for housing in the plan is the former Acre Lane Resource Centre, which covers 21 acres and was sold by the council in 2016.
Wirral had been heavily criticised by the Government for its lack of Local Plan earlier this year, with then-Housing Secretary Sajid Javid writing to the authority due to “consistent failure” and “no exceptional circumstances to justify… such little progress.”
The council hit back following the letter, arguing the Government was “dead wrong” and said the local authority “neither welcomed nor appreciated the Secretary of State’s overtly political intervention.”
If signed off by the council next week, a period of consultation will begin in September, with the results coming before cabinet in December. In the same month, the cabinet will be required to sign off the final text of the Local Plan, and a final decision will be made by full council in July next year.