The market forms a key part of Birkenhead's regeneration. Credit: via Wirral Council

Wirral eyes Argos as solution for Birkenhead Market headache 

The council will meet next week to discuss alternative options for the relocation of the town’s market after plans to move it to the former House of Fraser site became too expensive. 

Wirral Council has identified the 28,000 sq ft former Argos unit in the Grange Shopping Centre as a “strong alternative location for Birkenhead Market”. 

The authority has been working to move the market into a new, purpose-built facility for some time, recognising the project as a “critical part” of Birkenhead’s regeneration. 

In 2021, the former House of Fraser site was earmarked as the new home of the market but since then costs for the project have spiralled to £31.6m, significantly higher than the £24m 2021 cost estimate. 

The cost of the scheme “could have a significant impact on the council’s financial position,” according to a report to Wirral’s economy, regeneration and housing committee. 

Earlier this year Wirral acquired the Grange and Pyramid Shopping Centres, presenting an opportunity to reassess the market project and look at alternative locations within the newly-purchased assets. 

An initial feasibility study on the Argos market option indicates the site could accommodate 60 to 70 market traders. There are currently 44 active traders at the existing market building, which the council says is “ageing and operating inefficiently”. 

No decision has been made on where the market will ultimately end up and Wirral Council intends to carry out more investigations and consultation with traders before making one. 

The direction the council decides to go with the market could have a knock-on impact on the Wirral Growth Company, the joint venture between the authority and Muse that is delivering the regeneration of Birkenhead.

The report states that “subject to member decisions on the developer for the market, consideration will be given to the future of WGC”.

A spokesperson from WGC said: “Wirral Council and Muse enjoy a valuable working relationship through the Wirral Growth Company that has seen a number of high-profile projects successfully brought forward, among them the soon-to-be-opened Mallory and Irvine office blocks which are at the heart of Birkenhead Commercial District and will be key to helping kickstart the forthcoming regeneration of the town centre and wider area.

“As this ambitious regeneration programme continues to progress, it is appropriate that the work of the partnership is kept under close review and future options for it considered and brought to elected members for consideration to ensure the best possible outcomes.”

Your Comments

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All part of the weave and weft of renewal in inflationary times. But the key point here is progress and momentum. There’s lots of it in Birkenhead and Wirral more generally. Fair play to the council and its officers, you have to say.

By Birket Boy

Argos? Everyone with an interest in the development profession recognises the potential of Birkenhead and Wirral, but this isn’t Regeneration. This smacks of we have bought a shopping centre with a lot of empty units, let’s shove it in there and save some money. This had St John’s Market Mark 2 written all over it.

Fair play to the Councils and its Officers? This is at worst a penny pinching property scheme and at best, elected members playing at development. Who’s advising this move?

By Winston Blanchett

This is asset (mis)management not visionary regeneration. The House of Fraser site made a lot more sense. Are they putting housing there instead? Now the offices are built, wouldn’t it make sense to refurbish the existing building and just make it a more attractive place to go. There is enough space for the traditional market and also create something a bit different that can make the people of Wirral use Birkenhead again. If it’s done well, it might even attract people from outside the borough!

By William Hesketh

Given so many of Wirral Council’s current problems have been caused by poor financial management, probably right for them to pause. £31.6 million for likely fewer than 50 stalls is eye-watering, when with a few exceptions, traditional indoor retail markets are in sharp decline, generally need hefty and ongoing support from Council revenue budgets, and if anyone bothers checking, quite a lot of existing traders wouldn’t pass any sort of viability assessment. Keeping costs and future subsidy as low as possible is generally the best way in the circumstances.

By Markety Mark

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