As Wirral Growth Company gets ready to hit the ground running on the largest of its projects in the summer – Birkenhead Town Centre – development director at Muse Developments, Mike Horner looks back at the extensive public consultation programme and discusses why it’s so important to get feedback from local people.
The local community is absolutely at the heart of our vision for Birkenhead Town Centre, so the main objective of the consultation was to communicate our ambition, meet the local people and get an understanding of what they really want for their town, for us to then assess and discuss whether their ideas could be incorporated into the masterplan.
We carried out an extensive programme of communication and engagement with local people, stakeholders and businesses for Birkenhead and the feedback we received genuinely helped us to shape our plans to suit the people who will actually spend time living in, working in and enjoying the town for years to come.
We received over 300 responses from people across all of our events and the responses covered a number of areas including shopping, open space, car parking, offices, leisure facilities, crime and safety – all the important things you would expect really.
“The area is run down, shabby and depressing, with litter and fly tipping problems.”
The shopping experience itself wasn’t one of the best features of Birkenhead town centre, with 46% of people saying that they were put off by shopping in Birkenhead “because there are too many empty units.” It was felt by some that reducing the number of empty units and making the shopping area more compact by converting some of the outlying shopping areas into other uses such as residential, would improve the retail core of the town centre, so this is something we have taken on board.
Food and drink
43% of respondents indicated that they do not like the food and drink offer in Birkenhead, only 15% of people stated that they did. Several respondents commented that there was nothing open in the town centre after 5pm, suggesting that a better variety and a more upmarket food and drink offer would improve vitality and vibrancy into the evening. We are very passionate about incorporating this in order to encourage people to spend more time in the town and to give people somewhere nice to eat out with friends and family to help generate an evening economy.
An overwhelming feature of comments made at the pop-up unit in the Pyramids Shopping Centre, the event at the Hive and the event with market traders, was the issue of anti-social behaviour and people did not like feeling unsafe in the town centre, particularly after dark. We believe that, as the new development and the quality of the surroundings take shape, crime levels will naturally reduce and people will begin to feel safe again as outdoor spaces are improved and managed.
All of these issues and more have been assessed and taken into consideration to form part of the plan for Birkenhead town centre.
When we say public consultation is important to us, it’s an absolute must. We’re investing heavily in this project, so we have to get it right. Getting the views of local people can’t be just a tick in a box.
We now look forward to getting on the ground and we hope that the people who took the time to come and see us and share their views at our events, will see, as we progress with the plans, how they have helped us contribute to the future prosperity of Birkenhead Town Centre.
Only 2% of respondents considered there to be any good quality office accommodation within the town centre. Comments were made about how the town centre is not currently a desirable location for offices, but that their introduction would bring multiple benefits. Members of the public said it would help the local retailers if there were more offices and more people working close by in the town centre.
Two Grade A office buildings which will offer energy-efficient accommodation will form the first phase of development in Birkenhead to help meet the requirement for quality workspace in the town and hopefully attract new businesses to the area. Both office buildings have recently been awarded WiredScore gold standard meaning they are amongst the best in the country in terms of broadband and telecom infrastructure, so we’re really proud of that.