Issue - decisions
Wirral Waters Enterprise Zone Investment Fund - Ben Lavell
Councillor Tony Jones introduced a report by the Economic Development Lead that informed that Peel Investments (Intermediate) Limited (Peel) had applied for a grant from the Wirral Waters Investment Fund (WWIF) of £400,000 to help secure £2,100,000 of funding which had been agreed from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF). This was in addition to £300,000 of project finance that the Council had already agreed to fund through its capital programme, £100,000 from European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) and £300,000 private sector contribution from Peel. The funding would be used to develop green infrastructure and public realm improvements in the Tower Road area of Birkenhead, an existing public highway on land already owned and adopted (maintained by obligation) by the Council.
The ‘Civilised Street’ works would transform A554 Tower Road through wider pavements, shared surface areas and reduced carriageway widths, and would create some 1km of shared footway / cycle way. It would link to existing and proposed pedestrian / cycle routes and bus stops, facilitating access to wider areas, making Tower Road a high-quality destination for workers, students, residents and visitors accessing the area by these modes.
The ‘Green Infrastructure’ element of the scheme would see 130 new trees planted, comprising 90 large trees in pits located on grassed areas and 40 large trees in pits located on hard areas.
This scheme would integrate with recent sustainable transport improvements in the Wirral Waters area including recently completed shared footway/cycle ways on Northbank East and Rendell Street. Funding had also been secured via ESIF for the extension of the Northbank East scheme along Northbank West to the Duke Street junction where it would meet with a further STEP funded cycle route. All works in the area including the Tower Road Public Realm scheme were future proofed to accommodate the implementation of a mass transit solution.
These works would enhance the physical environment and accessibility associated with several key development and investment locations including the Wirral Waters Campus of Wirral Metropolitan College, Egerton Square amenity village, Tower Road Office and Maritime Knowledge Hub. Further, the scheme provided direct access linking committed footway and cycle ways to new housing within the Northbank/Tower Road development cluster totalling approximately 1,100 units planned to 2024, with key projects including Wirral Walters One/Legacy, Belong Village and Urban Splash. Tower Road was a key gateway route connecting Wirral Waters with Birkenhead town centre to the south. As such, the application was recognised to be crucial to contributing more widely to the success of the Wirral Waters development area, Woodside Waterfront and Birkenhead Town Centre regeneration initiatives.
The Wirral Plan: A 2020 Vision set out the vision for the borough and had economic growth at its heart to ensure residents were able to access good, high paying jobs in a stable and thriving economy. The Plan identified 20 key pledges that the Council, and its partner agencies, must deliver and the application for financial assistance directly supported the following pledges:
· Increase inward investment
· Workforce skills match business needs
· Greater job opportunities
· Thriving small businesses
Councillor Tony Jones reported that a number of other options had been discounted as follows:
· provide a loan rather than grant: An independent appraisal of the application had concluded that the project was not currently viable and therefore required grant funding through WWIF to facilitate development; and
· adopt a ‘do nothing’ approach: Not providing WWIF funding.
The Cabinet noted that the considerable benefits of this project would not be realised without the introduction of WWIF funding, which existed to support development viability, environmental improvements and infrastructure investment.
This matter affected all Wards within the Borough and was a key decision.
Appended to the report was:
· Appendix 1: Report to Investment and Change Board – Application for Financial Assistance 25 July 2019 EXEMPT (Minute No. 43 Refers)
· Appendix 2: Wirral Waters Investment Fund Package 1 Business Plan (August 2018) EXEMPT
· Appendix 3: Site Location Plan EXEMPT (Minute No. 43 Refers)
· Appendix 4: Risk Register EXEMPT (Minute No. 43 Refers)
Councillor Tony Jones stated that in supporting this project he believed that the Council was delivering on its commitment to bring forward regeneration. It was creating real jobs for Wirral residents, growing the Wirral economy and beginning to realise the Council’s vision for the Borough. This was an exciting period of development at Wirral Waters which would include arts, culture, amenity and Grade ‘A’ office space. This infrastructure was a major part of the jigsaw and progress was now being made. The Wirral Waters project was the largest regeneration project in the UK and it had potential to create thousands of jobs and thousands of new homes.
Councillor Chris Jones informed that it was very exciting, that at long last, this project was moving forward and as a Councillor for the Seacombe Ward she obviously had a vested interest in it. The improvements being made would mean that people would feel safer on the roads, whether cycling or walking, as it was very dark in that area.
Councillor Anita Leech offered her congratulations to Councillor Tony Jones and to the officers who had worked very hard to unlock some of the sites to be redeveloped along with the funds required. The project was now progressing at considerable pace.
Councillor Stuart Whittingham also congratulated everyone for the work involved in respect of the Wirral Waters project so far. On Tower Road two bridges had been replaced in the last five years and there had been other investment in the infrastructure, street scene and the greening of the area. He was looking forward to seeing the finished project.
Councillor Chris Spriggs informed that culture and art was very important to this project. People would spend money at Wirral Waters and this would help the local economy.
Councillor Pat Hackett agreed that Wirral Waters was a very exciting project and, along with all the other ‘big ticket issues’ and projects the Council was involved with. It was coming together because Members and officers had embraced a new way of working and he congratulated them on that. It had made such a big difference to regeneration. The Council was changing and transforming the face of Wirral. The Docklands and central Birkenhead were being transformed, creating many jobs and new homes, improving peoples’ lifestyles and quality of life and would bring a new confidence to the area
(1) a grant of £400,000 be made to Peel Investments (Intermediate) Limited through the Wirral Waters Investment Fund to support the improvements to public realm in Tower Road, Birkenhead; and
(2) the Director of Governance and Assurance be authorised in consultation with the Director for Economic and Housing Growth to draw up and sign a legal agreement between the Council and Peel Investments (Intermediate) Limited that is within State Aid regulations and subject to the conditions contained in Appendix 1 to the report. (Minute No. 43 refers.)