Argyle Street

The ‘High Line’-style linear park in Birkenhead is being designed by Mott MacDonald & OPEN. The project is expected to open to the public in 2024


The Future is Birkenhead

Tom Roberts Mott Macdonald headshotOver the last few years Wirral Council and partners have been quietly setting the gears in motion on a major programme of regeneration across the peninsula, writes Tom Roberts of Mott MacDonald.

At the heart of the ‘Left Bank’ initiative is Birkenhead, a £1bn opportunity with capacity for 21,000 new homes. Beyond the numbers lies an incredible place packed with stories, heritage, grass-roots culture, and untapped potential.

Make no little plans

Central to Birkenhead’s emerging regeneration story is the 2040 Framework. This is a compelling vision to intensify and repopulate the town, tear down redundant highway flyovers, deliver a new mass transit system, and create green, active streets.

For me, the centrepiece of the 2040 Framework is the Dock Branch. This ‘High Line’-style linear park will sit within the cutting of the former Dock Branch railway line that runs through the town. It’s an infinitely Instagram-able idea that will undoubtably be both major visitor attraction and catalyst to wider regeneration, but also central to health, wellbeing, and low-carbon living. It’s a poetic nod back to the strong connections the town once had with New York City as well.

The 2040 Framework has since been supplemented with an overarching design guide, a series of ‘Neighbourhood Frameworks’, and several more focused masterplans for the most complex sites. Whilst non-statutory, this work will play an important role in guiding change in coming years. A brownfield-first local plan – recently submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for sign-off – is key to unlocking all of this from a planning policy perspective.

This time it’s different

Speak to any long-in-the-tooth Birkenhead resident, and they might tell you that this sounds all too familiar. Of course, there have been previous attempts to lift the town, but timing is everything.

With more than £100m already secured from the Future High Street Fund, Towns Fund, Town Deal, and Levelling Up Fund, Wirral Council have been one of the most successful local authorities in the country at attracting central government funds over the last few years. Several major projects have gone from felt pens to fully funded in just two years. Many will point to Wirral being a swing seat, but it’s hard to argue that the sheer potential of Birkenhead hasn’t been central to these repeat investments from Whitehall.

Layer on top of that substantial contributions from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Sustainable Transport Settlement and Active Travel Funds, and private capital flowing most notably into the town centre and Wirral Waters – all signs are looking very positive indeed.

Challenges still clearly remain, not least around viability in some areas. A successful outcome on the local plan should at least give investors confidence that values aren’t going to be undermined and chipped away by peripheral development. The major catalyst projects in the town centre and on the waterfront will have the biggest impact, alongside pump-priming investment in the public realm.

Lighting the touch paper

You’d be hard stretched to find a place with the wealth of ingredients that Birkenhead is blessed with: spectacular heritage at Hamilton Square and Birkenhead Park, the value of a waterfront with world class views, and, of course, its proximity to Liverpool. Birkenhead has always felt like a sleeping giant.

Over the last few years, a local cultural renaissance has been building – led by the Left Bank Collective – including new music venues and community gallery spaces. Future Yard is making a name for itself as one of the best new music venues in the country, drawing visitors who previously might never have had a reason to come to Birkenhead.

In a similar vein, the doors of Eureka! swung open at Seacombe Ferry Terminal last week. National Museums Liverpool will open a new transport heritage museum at the Dock Branch. BIG Heritage has also announced its intention to launch a new Battle of the Atlantic Centre on the waterfront. The list goes on…

Early next year, the Northbank of Wirral Waters will welcome its first wave of dockside dwellers. Following that, the town centre will see construction begin on the new market and completion of the first phases of the commercial district.

Bringing all this activity together, a new ‘urban room’ known as “BirkenEd’s Place” will open in the town centre next week, providing an open-door venue where communities can meet design teams, and input on projects as they move through the design process.

To borrow and adapt from Rudyard Kipling’s Birken’ead Drill – this is a place taking its chance and not standing still.

  • Tom Roberts is technical principal and cities lead for Liverpool City Region at Mott MacDonald

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He`s right Birkenhead has so much potential, besides being a working port and Irish ferry terminal it has waterfront opportunities for both commerce and residential. Millers Quay and other nearby residential will be a major catalyst to further investment, and I would like to see more apartments built at Woodside ferry right in central Birkenhead, with commuting across the river as the first choice form of transport. Somehow the tram network needs to be up and running around central Birkenhead and then expansion can follow in later years.
Also why can`t Birkenhead have it`s own cruise terminal, this would lead to more investment in hotels and leisure provision.

By Anonymous

… across the Peninuslar? hmmm. Does anyone ever cross the M53?

By Mr Negative

A great piece Tom and amazing to see so many talented design, planning and investment eyes on Wirral these days. A bright future for sure.

By Tom Mills

Good. It would be nice for us to have something to look at too.

By Eric

Not a single mention of doing anything to help the wildlife which is in a massive decline through over development of habitats. Not really a good sign for saving the planet. How about rewilding projects. Doesn’t wildlife have as much right to live in peace on earth as humans.

By Save the wildlife

Really need the council to reduce car parking charges, as its killing town centre. It’s cheaper to go to Liverpool on train or bus than to park in Birkenhead. Needs addressing

By Anonymous

Re parking ,it`s a way of raising revenue but a lot of the time it just deters people from visiting city or town centres and thus shops lose money and theatres etc lose customers.
Liverpool wants to charge for parking after 6pm, that would be sensible maybe if the local economy was strong but it could backfire, even central boroughs in London don`t do that eg Camden, where you can park free at the weekend, well Sundays anyway.

By Anonymous

Sounds a good step into the future

By Anonymous

Great piece and a great initiative. The work the Council and some of its partners have done in turning a bold narrative into a realistic project needs to be applauded after a few, inevitable, false starts. But that narrative is still important – it doesn’t just answer the question of what Birkenhead could be in terms of buildings and shared spaces, it has to state what Birkenhead is for. It must be more than the lazy answer of Liverpool’s dormitory neighbour, a nostalgic reminder of Victorian grandeur or just the municipal administrative Centre of the wonderful Wirral. Birkenhead needs to boldly shout what it is, not just to residents who’ve been shuffled to its edges or leapt to the greener zones to the west and south, but to new residents, young people, investors and entrepreneurs. More power to everyone involved but dream big, really big and shout loudly.

By Martin Liptrot

I am verrry impressed by the story of this NEW BIRKENHEAD I was born on the Northend and back then it was a real trashed and messed up place and now I am verrry surprised to see the GOOD people are doing I am sure people who have moved from Wirral in the past few years from childhood will surely move back here as soon as the GOODS RETURN to it’s original heritage with POSITIVITY AND PROPERITY WITH GOOD SECURITY it is important for people to FEEL SAFE where they come from Welldone it is a GREAT start

By Dean.Sumner

I think it is a great start for our FUTURE ahead in BIRKENHEAD as many of our well known people have not wanted to live in the county of Wirral as it has been run down from years of crime and neglect. the disused brownlands should be cleared of rubbish and cut back and all renewed for the communities I think if you do that and with the cutting you talk about is a great start also I am so happy they tore down the fly overs as they looked so grim and hid away the original tunnels of Birkenhead town railway and original building I also have heard that the railways have talked about a new Liverpool/Birkenhead station being built is that to replace our great history of WOODSIDE STATION since it closed at the end of the great war? If so you have all recovered our GREAT HISTORY and habitats how about even find volunteers to clean up those derelict areas, would be cheaper and it could support others with mental health and people in full time work 👍

By Dean Sumner

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