This is an age old question without a simple answer and yes; we are aware that there have been schemes and ideas before AND, some people are really tired of these questions being asked, conversations being started and promises being made that never seem to come to fruition but… set aside your cynicism for a moment and imagine this:
Birkenhead is reimagined as a town that has its community front and centre. We design people back into the spaces and traffic out. Over 60% of Birkenhead residents don’t own a car so how about we make walking and cycling a priority as opposed to the additional 920 car parking spaces the proposed MUSE development would bring. We use cycle paths and walking routes to properly, seamlessly connect the ferry to the train, the train to the bus and the bus to the shopping and social precinct.
How about the further development of cycle paths on major routes into our town and the installation of electric vehicle charging points working towards Wirral becoming the first clean, green and carbon neutral council the UK?
Currently we have an amazing amount of gorgeous green space, beautiful waterfront views, free exercise opportunities and a world class park. With the correct planning and management wouldn’t this become a real selling point?
Couldn’t we take a lead from the likes Bristol, Brighton, Manchester and Glasgow? These cities are considered disrupters and rule breakers in the best possible way; can’t we find a way for our peninsula to sell itself as a forward thinking, positive and proactive place to be a part of both from a business and residential perspective? Birkenhead deserves to be the urban centre of our area. Forget the money for a moment. With the right vision, investment can and will follow.
Birkenhead market used to be the pride of the town, it was a social hub a place to meet friends, pick up your shopping (no plastic or excess packaging) and chat with the stall holders who were (and are) fonts of knowledge on how to feed a family on a budget or how to serve a show stopper to impress. With higher rates of child poverty and childhood obesity alongside lower life expectancy, having the opportunity to pick up a weeks worth of groceries at the same time as finding out more about how to prepare, serve and store them – perhaps even taking part in a cookery session or demo – there are tonnes of examples of groups like this making a really positive difference in areas that face similar struggles to Birkenhead.
Some of the principal concerns raised by the residents of Birkenhead pertained to feeling safe, issues with crime, antisocial behaviour and drugs. These are not concerns unique to us; In the late 20th century, New York City was blighted by serious crime and drugs – residents were rightly afraid to go to certain areas but; those areas, which people found ugly and intimidating were reimagined with pots of paint, planters and community initiatives. Some of this was done without the say so of anyone in authority – it was simply people with ideas taking back their streets and they have flourished, as have the communities around them and the difference this has made both to the individual areas and the cities whole reputation has been incredible. This idea of community led ideas was promoted by Janette Sadik-Khan who was in charge of transport and urban issues in NYC whilst Mayor Bloomberg was in charge of things. Her book ‘Street Fight’ is chock full of examples of low cost solutions to repurpose our public spaces and roads to make them cleaner, green, healthier and better for business.
Not only that, the development needed isn’t about broken street lights… I mean obviously it is, but it is SO SO much bigger than that. For this to work it needs collaboration and a joint effort and some seriously brave and bold decisions which need to consider the peninsula as a whole.
Rethink think – no, Rethink honestly, hand on heart, believe that Birkenhead can be a brilliant town again. We think that the ideas and the passion needs to come from the people living there day in day out. They know where the problems are, what won’t work and what is worth a try and, engaging with them is the absolute key to any redevelopment that happens. We can take courage from places such as Mulhouse in France which has gone from ‘Bleak to bustling over the last decade and shares more than a few similarities with Birkenhead;
Just over a decade ago, Mulhouse, a town of 110,000 people near the German and Swiss borders, was a symbol of the death of the European high street. One of the poorest towns of its size in France, this former hub of the textile industry had long ago been clobbered by factory closures and industrial decline. It had high rates of poverty and youth unemployment, a shrinking population, and more than 100 shops empty or boarded up. The centre had become associated with gangs.
Read the full article here.
As an area it makes no sense for us to be talking about greenbelt release in one breath and empty homes and shops in the next. Naturally, developers are more likely to be interested in building in desirable areas that don’t require demolition and don’t need land to be tested for contamination. Naturally, councils are keen to bring in revenue and that means council tax which is more in desirable areas so… let’s make this area desirable again! Currently it is unlikely those with the luxury of choice would opt to buy in most parts of Birkenhead which ensures that the redevelopment of the town and the creation of properties around it may not have the deep and long lasting impact that it should and could.
Let’s take Hamilton Square as an example. It is the largest example of Grade 2 listed buildings outside of London. There can’t be another town or city in the United Kingdom today that doesn’t make better use of such an incredible asset. Properties such as these sell for around £700,000 in Edinburgh and upwards of £15 million in central London, even in Liverpools Cathedral Quarter (which you can practically see from the top floor of the town hall) go for thousands more. In Birkenhead they are often vacant, divided up into offices or used as social housing. When they come up for sale as whole properties they are available for around £250,000.
These beautiful properties are a short hop from the train, ferry, bus and motorway; commuters could be in Liverpool in less than 10 minutes! London in less than 2.5hrs – the place should be buzzing every weekend, not two or three times a year for one off, costly events. There should be cafes and boutiques for mooching in on the way to the town centre or the ferry. There was an agreement made over 18 months ago to develop a Heritage plan for the Square but so far… not much… (as far as we know).
Wirral’s history is built on innovation and bold ideas and we need some of this now. We need an identity, a real USP to ensure that we get the right developments in the right areas maintaining what green space we have as far as is possible whilst enhancing our existing urban spaces. Wellbeing, mental health considerations and work life balance are becoming ever more important when people look to relocate either as individuals or businesses; this is the type of lifestyle that the peninsula currently offers in abundance. If we do not take this opportunity to genuinely do something bold and different the chasm between the two sides of the M53 will continue to deepen and everyone will lose out.
Imagine this; Wirral as a peninsula with Birkenhead as its principal town and urban centre. A rebrand which reinvents our area as a place where wellness and work life balance are at the top of everyone’s agendas. Where we work to live and have the time to enjoy the coast and the countryside with our friends and family. Where we feel safe enough to cycle (and not just on the Wirral way) and where productivity doesn’t come at the cost of missing your child’s bedtime for the third night in a row. The possibility of a 4 day week doesn’t need to be a pipe dream- if it’s good enough for New Zealand….
One of Wirrals best known and best loved attractions; Port Sunlight is a prime example of innovative urban planning, built with the needs of the residents and workers in mind. Isn’t it possible that with some bold ideas and brave decisions we could achieve that again, in Birkenhead? Reimagining and redeveloping existing spaces to create a new era and create a new legacy to reinforce the idea that we are an area and Wirral Borough Council are a council that cares about the people as much as the pounds. After all, everything seems impossible until its done…
Rethink Think that all of this is possible, over to you, we would love to hear your views…