Birkenhead Commercial District
Decision Maker: Cabinet
Decision status: For Determination
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: Yes
Councillor Angie Davies, Portfolio Holder Jobs & Growth, said:
“Regeneration sits at the core of this administration’s economic growth and development plans. This report seeks approval to initiate broad consultation on Wirral Growth Company’s proposed redevelopment of Birkenhead town centre as part of our wider programme for economic growth in Wirral. By listening and engaging with local residents and businesses we will shape a Birkenhead town centre masterplan which will benefit local business, improve opportunities for residents and deliver thousands of new jobs.
At the heart of a thriving Birkenhead town centre will be a commercial district which includes Grade A office space, a new market and retail options, and an improved leisure offer. Creating a vibrant commercial district will attract new businesses to Birkenhead, provide space for existing Wirral firms to grow, and also offers the opportunity for our borough’s largest employer, the public sector, to consolidate its real estate and office requirements in line with One Public Estate policies. Currently Wirral Council alone has in excess of 1,700 administrative staff spread across a range of sites and buildings. This report therefore also supports the proposal to consolidate many of these staff into premises which support greater efficiency in the delivery of support services and reduce the cost of expensive leases and maintenance of buildings which could free resources to be better used to meet the needs of residents in other ways.
Wirral Growth Company will submit a Partnership Business Plan in early 2019, informed by the consultation and the emerging ideas for Birkenhead Commercial District. This is anticipated to attract an investment of up to £150m – the largest single investment in Wirral ever made – and this report seeks approval for officers to identify suitable funding and investment providers, including exploring opportunities with Merseyside Local Government Pension Fund and other social and ethical sources.
Finally, our ambitions for Wirral Growth Company are anchored in our desire to see economic, social and environmental opportunities increase for Wirral residents.
Through the schemes it delivers Wirral Growth Company will support us in meeting these social values – including generating job and training opportunities, providing local supply chain procurement, building affordable homes and improving the public realm in our town centres.
Our plans for Wirral are ambitious and progressive. To ensure we deliver these social outcomes and they are recognised as central to the ethos and actions of Wirral Growth Company, I am delighted to be recommended to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors for Wirral Growth Company.”
Councillor Angela Davies introduced a report by the Subject Matter Expert: Assets, the purpose of which was to initiate an extensive consultation programme to support the development of Birkenhead Commercial District. The Cabinet noted that this development was intended to drive the wider regeneration of Birkenhead through the provision of 300,000 square feet of Grade An office space with 70% destined for private sector occupancy together with a new leisure and market offer. The consultation would shape how and when these developments might be brought forward.
It was proposed that the Birkenhead Commercial District would be delivered through the Wirral Growth Company, the Council’s partnership with Muse Developments.
The report was supported by two business cases. There was a commercially sensitive and therefore exempt draft business case for Birkenhead Commercial District elsewhere on the agenda (Appendix 1, Minute No. 44 refers) to demonstrate that it was a viable proposition for the Council. Members noted that it was intended that a significant proportion of the commercial office space would be taken up by private sector businesses. The business case evidenced demand for Grade A office space across Merseyside. In addition, it was the Council’s ambition to create a public sector hub where services from a range of organisations could be co-located to provide residents with more joined up and integrated services. Also, attached elsewhere on the agenda was commercially sensitive business case for the consolidation of the Council’s back office services into a single building in Birkenhead (Appendix 2, Minute No. 44 refers). The Cabinet noted that whilst the majority of staff would be relocating from elsewhere in Birkenhead, the business case illustrated the financial benefits of moving away from the Council’s current aging asset base.
The simple economics were that to achieve a regeneration of Birkenhead required an increase in the numbers of people who worked and lived in the town. The proposal to develop Birkenhead Commercial District would create the space for 2000 additional employees to work in the town centre.
Attached to the report was Appendix 3 – Overview of Principal Legal Documents and Appendix 4 – Approach to Consultation. Appendix 5 – Plan of the Strategic Acquisition with redline boundary. (Minute No. 44 refers.)
The Cabinet was aware that historically, attempts to regenerate Birkenhead through speculative building had not achieved the desired outcomes. Therefore, it was noted that to continue in that way would not meet the needs of the Council, its partners and residents and would risk endangering Wirral’s future prospects.
This was a Key Decision and had been included in the Forward Plan.
Councillor Angela Davies reminded the Cabinet that at its meeting on 27 November 2017 it had agreed to acquire the Europa Building on Europa Square in Birkenhead, a strategic acquisition, to assist with the restoration of the town. She proposed that this building be added to the option agreement.
Councillor George Davies welcomed the approach informing that it had been a long time in the making and was a well thought out scheme that would benefit the people of Birkenhead and the rest of Wirral. The area currently looked tired and this scheme would bring it up to where it should be. The scheme would be morale boosting for local people and he wholeheartedly supported it.
Councillor Stuart Whittingham informed that the proposals for Birkenhead were transformational for the area and for the Council’s staff who would be all together in high quality office space. It would also transform and regenerate small businesses. He was proud to be involved in making it a reality.
Councillor Bernie Mooney considered that these proposals were a good example of how ambitious the Council was for the people of Wirral. The Council had gone through difficult times with the Government’s austerity programme and had lost a lot of funding. This new approach to rejuvenating Birkenhead was a game changer and would put Wirral on the map. Councillor Mooney was proud of the Growth Company, the thorough way it had gone into it and the ambitious plans for young people.
Councillor Chris Jones was of the opinion that the approach being adopted was fantastic news for Wirral. She was also pleased that the University of Chester was basing itself in Marriss House in Birkenhead and would provide the space and technology to equip student nurses to practice clinical skills. However, she did refer to the fact that the plans for Seacombe had been put back and requested Members not to leave the area behind.
Councillor Angela Davies responded to Councillor Chris Jones informing that Seacombe was an area that the Administration wanted to work on but it needed to generate some income first.
Councillor Phil Davies welcomed the report and considered that this model was a pragmatic response to the challenges around regeneration. Birkenhead had been struggling in recent years and the way forward was to enter into a public/private partnership. This approach would provide an ongoing revenue stream for the Council going forward and would be critical to sustain public services.
Councillor Davies informed that his hobby horse was the provision of a brand new market similar to the one in Altrincham and other successful markets around the country. The aim was to recreate Birkenhead as almost a new destination by integrating leisure with retail and culture. Underpinning all of this were local people and businesses that would benefit.
Councillor Phil Davies was pleased that Councillor Angela Davies would Chair the Wirral Growth Company Board of Directors. He thanked the officer team who was responsible for putting together the project to development of Birkenhead Commercial District. This was just the first phase and was a model that would be rolled out across Wirral and no area would be left behind.
(1) a consultation programme with a view to informing a Masterplan for the Redevelopment of Birkenhead recognising that the Commercial District would be a key element be initiated;
(2) a draft Business Case for Birkenhead Commercial District that will be refined through public consultation and engagement with a funder be agreed;
(3) the recommended funding approach be agreed and the S151 Officer be authorised to initiate work on a Forward Funding model of finance with Wirral Growth Company;
(4) the Staff Relocation Business Case be agreed with a view to moving administrative functions to Birkenhead whilst retaining front line services in communities. This will result in disposal/ development/termination of lease(s) of 14 existing sites;
(5) the appointment the Portfolio Holder for Jobs and Growth to Chair the Wirral Growth Company Board of Directors be agreed;
(6) it be noted that Wirral Growth Company is also proposing to progress public consultation in Moreton, Bebington and West Kirby, as well as with stakeholders for Bromborough’s Industrial Estate, to inform future development plans and masterplanning;
(7) capital expenditure from the budget set aside for strategic acquisitions to complete land assembly within the BCD redline boundary be approved; and
(8) the Europa Building, Europa Square, Birkenhead be added to the option agreement.
Publication date: 29/11/2018
Date of decision: 26/11/2018
Decided at meeting: 26/11/2018 - Cabinet
Effective from: 07/12/2018