Decision details

Birkenhead Market Options

Decision Maker: Economy Regeneration & Housing Committee

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: Yes

Is subject to call in?: Yes


The current Birkenhead Market Hall is an aging building, operating inefficiently and the Council has been considering options to re-locate the market to an alternative market site for several years.


On 6 December 2023, this Committee received a report on the market and its future location. It (amongst other matters) agreed to progress the development of the design of the Princes Pavement option to RIBA Stage 3, appoint a market consultant to further develop the market operating model and then bring back the outcome of this work to the Committee for a decision. The report set out other options that have been considered in the past discounting them for practical reasons. This Committee also reviewed the capital cost of re-locating the existing market to a new purpose-built market hall on the site of the former House of Fraser Store (HOF). The capital cost of delivery for the HOF proposal is £31.6 million based on July 2023 figures and there is an emerging funding gap which could have a significant impact on the Council’s financial position. Furthermore, Policy and Resources Committee on 17 January 2024 resolved amongst other matters to reduce the capital budget for the new market project making the HOF proposal unaffordable. This report makes recommendations regarding the feasibility of the House of Fraser options.


In recognition of the recent engagement with Birkenhead Market Traders Association, Committee also agreed that further feasibility work would be undertaken on two options, the St John’s Pavement option and a refurbishment of part of the existing Birkenhead Market site.


The Committee also agreed to pause market development work on the House of Fraser site whilst this work was undertaken. Issues associated with the development of the HOF site for the purpose of a market were reported, including its financial viability.


This paper reports back to Committee on these points.


The report proposal directly supports the Wirral Plan (2023-27) through the key theme of working together to deliver people focused regeneration.



Resolved (7:4) – That


1.  The Princes Pavement option to deliver a new market for Birkenhead, which will require remodelling, refurbishment and fit out of the interior and some changes toits external façade and outside areas be approved;


2. That the Director of Regeneration and Place be authorised to:


a.  notify Wirral Growth Company LLP that it does not wish to proceed with the development of the House of Fraser site pursuant to the relevant Development Service agreements that have been entered into between the Council and Wirral Growth Company LLP;


b.   allocate up to a maximum of £13.7m towards the costs of the delivery of the new market;


c.  Using an appropriate procurement pathway:


  i.  procure and appoint a design team to complete the design for the new market;


  ii.  place the physical works to deliver the new market out to tender; and


  iii.  let the contact to deliver the works to remodel, refurbish and fitout the interior of the new market and make changes to its external façade and outside areas as required to deliver the scheme;


d.  Progress any applications for planning, building control or highways approval that may be required to progress the new market scheme;


e.  Undertake a consultation exercise with the public to inform final design / integrate feedback into the development of the design for the new market;


f.  On completion of the new market, progress with the decant of the old market; and


3.  That in taking forward the proposal for the market, it be endorsed that the Council shall work in close collaboration with key stakeholders, as appropriate, as part of a partnership-based approach. This will include other events and activities related to the market in collaboration with stakeholders, including market traders as part of the delivery of the scheme.


Reasons for the decision:

The Council has until March 2026 to spend allocated Future High Street grant funding of up to £14m to deliver the relevant schemes within its ambit. The Council has entered into a Development Management Agreement with Wirral Growth Company LLP (WGC) to deliver the House of Fraser (HOF) market option. The relevant agreement allows the demolition work to commence whilst design work on the new market hall is paused to allow time for the Council to consider options. This window is time limited in the Agreement to 25th April 2024. The relocation of the current market is a critical part of the Birkenhead Town Centre regeneration plan. The proposed HOF new market hall is over budget and cannot be delivered within the budget allocation agreed by Council at its meeting of 26 February 2024.


Based on the best information that the Council has at this time, the proposed solution on Princes Pavement can be delivered within the financial and time envelopes available. The other options tested cannot be delivered within this time frame. Taking a decision to progress this option offers the Council an achievable, effective, timely, resourced, and deliverable solution to a long-standing issue. The other solutions considered do not offer this to the Council. The proposed solution would deliver a modern market offer at the right scale for Birkenhead.


The elements of St John’s Pavement that could become available in the time period required would not deliver the required floor area needed for a modern market offer befitting of Birkenhead, nor does the building offer, from a design perspective, a good solution. The building does not offer the required space from a design perspective and would only be able to offer trading space to a limited number of existing market traders. This would preclude a number of existing traders the opportunity to relocate and fetter the ability for a new market venture to attract new forms of business required to help sustain long-term viability.


A new market at St John’s Pavement would require significant mechanical and electrical installations at high level and the concrete soffit height is limited. In fact, the floor to the underside of Mechanical and Electrical services could be as low as 2.5m in part, providing a somewhat claustrophobic environment. The unit has different floor levels, considered a disadvantage. The limited size of this site would not provide long term sustainability of a vibrant market hall offer, fail to attract a significantly wider demographic and is likely to trade at an initial annual deficit of £142K, likely to worsen year on year. If the site is to be expanded endeavouring to approach a new market size requirement, this will include uncertain negotiations with a new coffee shop operator and extending the building to the rear. Successful lease negotiations with the coffee shop are not assured and would likely hinder the grant funding programme. An extension to the rear of the building will have planning approval uncertainties and should not be considered either straight-forward or even that planning would be granted.


The relocation of the current market is a critical part of the Birkenhead Town Centre regeneration plan. The emerging Delivery Plan contemplates using the market as a catalyst for wider regeneration and the work so far completed has highlighted the significant benefit that the relocation of the market to Princes Pavement will unlock the future redevelopment of the Town Centre. The Princes Pavement option would see the reuse of a unit that is currently vacant and delivers the space needed to deliver a modern market offer for Birkenhead. The occupation of this unit will provide an anchor to improve footfall and benefit other retailers in the area and improve the net operating income from the Council’s estate.


The current market building is in poor condition and is not weather tight. Although the Council is working in partnership with traders to manage the building and keep it in repair, the asset would need significant work if a refurbishment was considered, or if a do-nothing approach was adopted.


The St John’s Pavement option and the existing market redevelopment option disrupt occupiers of these spaces and their trade during the implementation phase. The Princes Pavement option delivers in a vacant unit, and allows for a single relocation of traders, minimising disruption.


The Princes Pavement options would see the re-use of an existing building which offers opportunities for a sustainable development over a new build option, although the other options offer similar opportunities the fabric of both the St John’s Pavement and the in-situ market refurbishment options are inferior.


Should the Committee choose an option other than Princes Pavement it is extremely unlikely that those options could be delivered given the financial and time constraints of the project and the constraints of the other assets that are considered in this paper. In addition to this the alternative options would have to be fully and robustly developed to bring it to the same stage as the Princes Pavement option.


Traders have expressed a range of concerns about the different options that have been presented over time, however traders are concerned about the location of the Princes Pavement location. It is noted that this option is near the Bus Station, a short walk from the House of Fraser site and is under an existing multi story car park and has similar footfall to other options and superior to that of the existing market.


The new space will provide the opportunity for Birkenhead to have a new market offer which encompasses traditional food and non-food retailing, service industries such as hairdressers, nail bars, beauticians etc, hospitality including world food kitchens and bars, communal seating, event space, competitive leisure and a flexibility for other forms of relevant space activation.


Alternative options considered:

A series of alternative options were considered at the 6 December 2023 Committee meeting, and these were discounted. However, additional options were put forward for further work at that meeting. These were an option to refurbish part of the existing market, an option on St John’s Pavement alongside the option of Princes Pavement. The Committee agreed to pause work on the House of Fraser site but were made aware of the financial challenges faced if that option was brought forward. Although previously discounted by Committee, a do-nothing option also has to be considered for reporting purposes. Therefore, four alternative options are considered. A plan showing the location of the various options can be found at Appendix 1. Schematics of the Princes Pavement Option, the St John’s Pavement option and a refurbishment option are shown in Appendix 2.


The Committee could choose not to progress with any development option presented in this report. This option has been considered and rejected previously by the Committee. This would leave the market in its current location, in an aging building in poor repair, frustrating the Council, Traders, Shoppers, and Residents. The Council would not deliver a new market which befits Birkenhead and the Borough, and it would hinder the future development of Birkenhead. It would not address the need to revitalise Birkenhead’s market offer and would not provide traders and shoppers with a modern offer. Should the Committee choose not to progress with a development the Council would not have the time to spend the allocated Future High Streets grant allocation before its expiry in March 2026.


The Committee could choose the House of Fraser option, but as previously reported, the option is not fundable, as the Council does not have the resources available to be able to deliver this option. Choosing this option would in effect deliver a do-nothing option as the Council would not be able to fund the scheme.


The St. John’s Pavement Option has been previously considered by the Committee. Additional work since December 2023 has found that the option is not feasible for broadly the reasons that were previously reported to the Committee. From a design perspective the existing unit’s layout is inefficient, with a range of issues, if the Council were to deliver a market from the existing building. A demolition and redevelopment of this block is not a realistic option. In part this is due to anticipated difficulties in gaining vacant possession, cost of any proposal, noting the high cost of the House of Fraser option, and time.


The Council could consider the largest unit only. However, this unit alone is not sufficient to deliver a modern market offer of a suitable scale for Birkenhead and has structural limitations which would limit or constrain the space and would deliver a sub optimal solution. Although it would deliver the cheapest solution it is anticipated that any development, which would not offer the space needed to deliver a modern market solution, would be delivered by July 2026 which is outside the grant funding window.


A confidential schedule of occupation is contained in the exempt Appendix 3. Appendix 3 of this report is exempt from publication pursuant to paragraph 3 of the part 1 of Schedule 12 A of the Local Government Act 1972 (Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information)) because it contains or refers to information relating to the financial and business affairs of Wirral Growth Company LLP and the Council and the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.


The option of delivery of a refurbishment of part of the existing market has also been considered. This option would take longer than the time available to the Council and would be anticipated to be completed by August 2027 and therefore outside the Future High Street grant funding window.


The option developed for the market refurbishment would see a market delivered in the north of the site. Traders in the North end would be initially relocated to the South end, where most traders occupy at present, minimising temporary relocation disruption. The building would be separated with the North end then refurbished, and following this, traders would be decanted into the North end of the site on completion of the construction work.


Due to the work on site this would see a disruption to trade in the market and the flow of shoppers around the market whilst the work went on, whereas the other options would allow for a decant once works has been complete. Issues around access, service roads etc would remain. With the site partially decanted, the opportunities to regenerate the centre of Birkenhead would be diminished and the vacant element of the building would need to be attended to.


At a high level, Committee may wish to explore other options, for example delivering a market focused on the South or East access to the Market, however similar issues of time and cost would remain, with a sub optimal entrance remaining for the refurbished market offer.


Report author: Bryn Griffiths

Publication date: 28/03/2024

Date of decision: 27/03/2024

Decided at meeting: 27/03/2024 - Economy Regeneration & Housing Committee

Effective from: 09/04/2024

Accompanying Documents: