The 1930s building has lain empty since last March

Wirral Council acquires Birkenhead’s House of Fraser

Sarah Townsend

The council has purchased the 70,000 sq ft retail building for £2m, to help facilitate the next part of its regeneration of the town centre.

The two-storey 1930s property on Grange Road in Birkenhead was bought by overseas investor Autumn Properties in 2014 for £5m. It has housed department store House of Fraser, which went into administration in 2019, for the past few decades.

Although many of House of Fraser’s UK stores were saved when Sports Direct chief Mike Ashley acquired the struggling retailer later that year, the Birkenhead outlet was one of the stores earmarked for closure. The building has lain vacant since last March.

Through the Wirral Growth Company, a 50:50 joint venture with Muse Developments, Wirral Council is leading a £1bn regeneration of Birkenhead town centre, which gathered momentum towards the end of last year with news of the planned demolition of part of the Milton Pavements shopping centre to bring forward 150,000 sq ft of offices.

Meanwhile, Wirral Council learned at the end of last year it will receive £24.6m from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund to help it progress the plans.

The council said in a statement that the purchase of the House of Fraser building “adds a further tangible commitment to the realisation of our ambitions, coupled with the significant news that the borough was successful in its bid to secure Future High Streets Fund money.”

The statement added: “The purchase will not only facilitate the future advancement of the town centre but ensure this sizeable and well-known building will not remain empty in the long-term or be left open to third-party development that could add little or no value to the community.”

As well as the office complex and new central business district, Birkenhead’s regeneration will see the creation of a replacement market and food and drinks offer for the town, as well as extensive communal green space and other uses.

The House of Fraser property is located at the entrance to the proposed central business district, close to the redevelopment of Milton Pavements and a potential residential build in the nearby Hind Street area.

Cllr Janette Williamson, leader of Wirral Council, said: “We have been able to purchase the former House of Fraser building at a significantly reduced cost at a time when we are making serious progress with our plans to regenerate Birkenhead.

“Having control over the future of this building, sitting in a strategic position at the gateway to the town centre, combined with our existing portfolio, will mean we are able to move forward with our proposals, without any unforeseen difficulties presenting limitations to what we can do.

“It gives us options with the landscape and will afford us the opportunity to be both creative and sustainable in our developments.”

The council said it would aim to present more detailed plans for the House of Fraser building in early spring. Wirral’s director of asset management and investment advised on the deal and no external agent was used.

 

Your Comments

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The vendors must be rubbing their hands with glee to get £2,000,000 for this building in such a rundown area. Another white elephant from Wirral Council paid for with OUR money.

By Dan Kelly

The problem for the Council is they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Similar to the Strand in Bootle, there’s no market for the space left by House of Fraser in Birkenhead. That whole town centre probably needs a masterplan but some tangible short term wins to restore faith in the area. I wish them well.

By Mark Gilbertson

The Wirral has not just been let down by WMBC, but also neglected by Merseyside and to a lesser extent, the LCR. In the present climate things are not going to suddenly get better. I understand Liverpool city centre is seen as the financial hub, but the notion that a better Liverpool equals a better city region has yet to be proved. Birkenhead has and will continue to be neglected. Regeneration will remain a pipe dream.

By Heswall

Whether some people like it or not Wirral is part of Merseyside and entwined with Liverpool, it`s docks, it`s people and it`s economy. However many opportunities have been wasted to improve things eg New Brighton ferry and simple pier to return,
Birkenhead waterfront to be enhanced with high and mid-rise flats and offices , plus cafes and bars, these would be quick wins and raise the profile of the area.

By Anonymous

I have said this previously but I think a bridge is needed from Liverpool to Birkenhead. This would be a game changer for Birkenhead, as all of a sudden it will seen physically connected to Liverpool. I am certain shiny new apartment blocks will follow given they will have amazing views of the Liverpool Skyline and easy access to facilities – by walking or cycling. The tunnels do not provide that connection. Hopefully, this (I know the idea has been floated) and Wirral Waters gaining momentum will make a difference this side of the water.

Another thing that would also help is Liverpool getting a full HS2 / NPR connection. I have heard rumours of somewhere on the strand being the best bet. This would also help both Liverpool and Wirral as that location again would be quick to get via bridge/train for folk from Birkenhead making the place more viable for building.

Here’s hoping anyway!

By Chris

I think the headline story on the Liverpool corruption probe should tell you all you need to know about whether the Wirral should cede any more power to those across the water. We can make our descisions and rightly or wrongly they will be ours to make.

By JamesD

I think the Wirral needs to continue to work on a stronger identity and develop a distinct brand when selling itself. Investment will not come otherwise.

By Christine

@JamesD. Cede any more power to those across the water? Not sure what you are talking about here. Development on the Wirral side is the responsibility of WMBC – not Liverpool City Council.

The future is greater integration with Liverpool, hence lots of talk about being Liverpool’s left bank (and this is WMBC saying this). I think there is resistance to this from the older generation (perhaps with images of the 80s) but not amongst the younger generation, who see Liverpool as their city centre. Wirral will still have its own identity within that.

I think the main point is that both sides will benefit.

By Chris

Agree that Wirral is part of, a key part at that, of the Liverpool City Region.

Be good to see Birkenhead developed. Surely this has to start at the waterfront though, which is almost criminally under developed. This should be prime real estate. There is some interesting stuff happening at Wirral Waters – the new maritime centre should hopefully bring in much needed better paid jobs and skilled workers.

By Wirralian