New Ferry Regeneration - Strategic Acquisitions
- Meeting of Special Meeting, Cabinet, Monday, 17th December 2018 10.00 a.m. (Item 46.)
- View the declarations of interest for item 46.
- View the background to item 46.
Councillor Phil Davies, Leader of the Council – Growth, said:
“Our commitment to the people of New Ferry has been resolute since day one. We have worked tirelessly to support the community to recover from the explosion which devastated the town, and we have consistently lobbied Government for direct financial support – sadly to no avail.
We are now taking steps to rebuild New Ferry, so we can create a thriving residential and retail centre which residents can be proud of.
Over the past few months, the council has been working with Homes England – and its appointed consultants – to make progress on a residential masterplan for the area, one which will provide a key trigger for the wider regeneration of New Ferry.
This latest proposal to bring key land and properties under the Council’s control will see us invest nearly £1.3m in addition to the £400,000 we have already spent on recovery efforts.
We are also working with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to unlock £500,000 in regional funding to help us bring forward our plans at pace. We will also continue to do all we can to make sure the Government meets its responsibilities to the people of New Ferry, and will continue to lobby for financial support.
Despite the complications of land and properties across the sites being owned by various companies and people, I am delighted we have been able to find a way to deliver a comprehensive regeneration plan for New Ferry. With Port Sunlight on its doorstep, this can be a place where people want to visit, where businesses will want to locate, and where people will want to live.”
Councillor Phil Davies introduced a report which informed that in March 2017 a horrendous explosion in New Ferry had devastated the heart of the retail centre, destroying businesses and homes and impacting significantly on the local community. Since that time, the Council and its partners had been fully supporting the recovery of the area and were now looking at positive steps to bring new developments forward. Councillor Davies informed that this was being undertaken in the context of the Regeneration Plan which the Council had consulted on in September 2017 and sought to protect local businesses and bring a mix of new residential and community uses into the area to create a sustainable future for New Ferry.
The Regeneration Plan had been sent to the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government The Rt Hon James Brokenshire but no tangible evidence had been forthcoming that the Government would back it financially. Councillor Davies was of the view that, with imagination and commitment, the Council could facilitate a good quality regeneration scheme. He informed that the Council was kick starting the project but it needed to get central government to step up to the plate as well by constantly lobbying it for funding support.
The Cabinet was aware that Government funding support had been requested on numerous occasions but given recent correspondence from the Secretary of State, it was considered that significant regeneration funding was very unlikely to be received. The Council was grateful for the support from Homes England and their funding was being spent on technical work which would be used to support future residential development in the area.
Councillor Davies reported that one of the key issues that had been identified was the high number of vacant properties and the condition of these was very poor. Many were beyond economic repair and if these properties could be acquired by the Council, it would enable sites to be assembled to attract in new developments. No-one else was going to fund these acquisitions and without proactive action by the Council, the properties would continue to present a disincentive to future investment in the area as well as creating a range of practical issues including fly-tipping and, anti-social behaviour. In a small number of these properties there were existing businesses and they would be assisted to relocate elsewhere in New Ferry to facilitate the new developments along with any residential tenants. There were some areas of land which would need to be acquired.
The report sought agreement to allocate £1.3m from the Council’s Strategic Acquisitions Programme, within the Capital Programme; in addition to the £400,000 the Council had already spent on the recovery effort, to undertake acquisition and demolition of properties in New Ferry required to assemble sites for new development.
Councillor Davies told the Cabinet that there were challenges around rebuilding the town and the local community. He informed that there was still a lot to do to help local residents and those who had lost their businesses. People were still suffering trauma from what had happened. Councillor Davies was disappointed at the Government’s lack of response to repeated requests and lobbying from himself and others, including Alison McGovern MP who, during Prime Minister’s Question Time on 5 December 2018 had again asked about support for her community following the New Ferry explosion, referring to a letter the Council had sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP.
The Cabinet was aware that other communities who had experienced tragedies e.g. Grenfell and Salisbury had received Government funding and agreed that it was important to keep the pressure on the Government in the hope of obtaining a satisfactory outcome for New Ferry.
Councillor Bernie Mooney was in agreement with Councillor Phil Davies and considered it disgraceful that the Government had not provided any help for New Ferry. The Council was doing all that it could. It was stepping in to help New Ferry when the Government was very reluctant to help people in the North West of the country. The people have been left to flounder but if the explosion had been in the South of the country Councillor Mooney believed that the Government would have provided the funds necessary to regenerate the area. She stated that the Government was treating the people of New Ferry with contempt. Councillor Mooney believed that the Council should forcibly lobby the Government for funding support.
Councillor Janette Williamson was in agreement. She informed that, as a resident of Port Sunlight and who lived in the road where the explosion had occurred, that there had been utter carnage in New Ferry that night. She and other residents had been reassured by the presence of the Emergency Services and by Assistant Director for Major Growth Projects and Housing Delivery who attended the scene and carried out a fantastic job. Councillor Williamson informed that she could not understand why the Government would not help. It had no sense of shame. It was beyond Councillor Williamson, as someone who had lived amongst it, why central government had not stepped in and helped New Ferry. Councillor Williamson was pleased that the Council had stepped in and she held the view that the Council needed to carry reserves for emergencies such as this one.
Councillor Phil Brightmore was also in agreement. He thought it was astonishing that the Government would not help. He considered this to be dereliction of duty. The people of New Ferry must be wholly aware and this must add to their trauma and anguish. Councillor Brightmore stated that the Government should be ashamed of itself. He hoped it would do the right thing and join the Council in supporting New Ferry.
Councillor George Davies was also in agreement. He reported that there had been little reaction to it from Whitehall. Jake Berry MP had visited New Ferry but the Council had not heard from him since. The Prime Minister had visited Liverpool not long after the explosion but did not visit the people of New Ferry to see how this disaster had taken over their lives. One gentleman was still suffering severely from the impact of the explosion. Councillor Davies reported that the Prime Minister, after her statement in the House of Commons last week, when she had answered Alison McGovern’s question, had said that she would take control of the letter that the Council had sent to The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP and that she would respond to it herself. He hoped that she would do this.
The Cabinet was aware that New Ferry’s retail core currently had the highest vacancy rate of all the borough’s shopping centres, with over 30% of premises remaining empty and or derelict. Failure to tackle the regeneration of New Ferry through a programme of strategic acquisitions, would ultimately lead to more business closures and the further decline of the centre. Given the dilapidated condition and low demand for these properties, their acquisition and subsequent demolition to support the centre’s regeneration aspirations was therefore deemed to be the only course of action. Doing nothing would just lead to further decline in the centre creating a range of challenges for the local community and businesses.
(1) the allocation of a sum of £1.3 million from its Strategic Acquisitions Capital Programme be approved to acquire a number of key sites in New Ferry to assemble sites for future development; and
(2) despite numerous requests by the Council to Government for financial assistance to support the regeneration of New Ferry and assist the local community, the Cabinet is deeply disappointed with the Government’s unhelpful response to date but will continue to lobby it for funding to ensure a fair deal for New Ferry.