Squaring The Inner Circle

Lest we forget - Hamilton Square is magnificent but let's not turn it into the magic roundabout.

Lest we forget – Hamilton Square is magnificent but let’s not turn it into the magic roundabout.

We must admit that when we heard about another consultation from Wirral Council we just rolled our eyes and carried on with The Times crossword.

However this latest consultation closes tomorrow and involves proposals for the redevelopment of Hamilton Square.As Hamilton Square is second only in architectural significance to our own Leaky Towers the gorgeous geometry of Wirral’s most prestigious landmark is definitely well worth having an opinion about – especially when bumbling Wirral Council and their pals start talking about mucking about with it!.

Now we all go a bit woozy when we look at maps at Leaky Towers (which might have something to do with that school field trip with a dodgy Geography teacher) but it seems to us the £1.1 million “big idea” involves turning Hamilton Square into a giant roundabout – or more accurately a squareabout.

https://www.wirral.gov.uk/sites/default/files/all/Hamilton%20St_MMD-357912-C-DR-01-0100-0001_P1%20%282%29.pdf

However – could the grand plans go awry as one of our readers commented to Council leader Phil “Power Boy Pip” Davies :

“Whatever you, Cllr Davies, quoted publicly as the reason for withdrawing the proposal, Wirral Council was stopped from introducing ‘Pay & Display’ parking in New Brighton as a result of a coordinated opposition to the scheme. Wirral Council was also defeated in its efforts to railroad a scheme in Rock Ferry against the wishes of the community.” 

Based on the cogent, well informed objections made below by one of our much valued correspondents Dr.Robert Smith we might well be on our way to a hat-trick for people power :

OBJECTIONS TO THE PROPOSED SCHEME DC-STEP-1516-2

£1.1m Hamilton Quarter redesign scheme –

I have had sight of a number of the objections which have been, or will be submitted, with detailed arguments regarding the history, heritage, conservation, previous developments, and the Listed Building status of many buildings around Hamilton  Square itself, and issues related to Woodside

I submit this formal objection and demand for a cessation of this ill-considered, ill-founded, poorly researched and generally totally inappropriate proposal on the basis that I support all other written objections entirely and therefore you accept that they also reflect my views and thereby are included in this objection.

However, I wish to add to all of the other objections these points which are of interest to me regarding Wirral Council ineptitude, lack of transparency and accountability, the wanton waste of hard-won financial resources, and the squandering of opportunities, as well as the raft of community, economic, environmental and built-heritage, historical and social heritage issues.

First, the background to the existing traffic management arrangement.

Just to ‘set the scene’ for my objections, here is a short piece from Mike Hornby in the Liverpool Daily Post, published on the 11th January 2002 quoting the now Leader of Wirral Council, Cllr Phil Davies, regarding the Birkenhead 2020 Vision produced 15 years ago……………..

Deputy Wirral Council leader Coun Phil Davies added: “This is an exciting vision which shows how Birkenhead can be developed and improved over the next 20 years. The document sets up a framework which we will use to attract additional investment and create jobs. It is something which will benefit the whole of the borough, not just Birkenhead, and will enable us to compete with places such as Liverpool and Cheshire Oaks.”
…also with regard to the investment of £82m between 1995 and 2002 – Barry Turnbull, 13th February 2002 – Liverpool Daily Post….
Of the Single Regeneration Budget schemes, Hamilton Quarter (SRB 1) has been the most significant. 
During its time it has been involved in 180 projects, many of them having a cultural and leisure flavour. 

Targets included: 
Ten new tourist attractions (nine achieved) Fifteen pubs and restaurants (12 achieved) Fifty new creative businesses (28 achieved) Seven small performance venues (achieved) 1,500 sq mtrs of exhibition space (achieved) 1.5m annual visitors (500,000 achieved). 
1,000 new jobs (achieved) 100 new businesses (achieved)

However Jim Wilkie, deputy chief executive of Wirral Council, commented: “The Hamilton Quarter has striven to meet outputs but has been hampered severely by significant delays in obtaining decisions on funding bids to Objective 1 and the National Lottery. (More about this point later)
“Business development and growth has been a particularly successful sector. Whilst there was initial scepticism about demand for retail and commercial floorspace, this has proved to be misplaced.” 
He said that the task now was to ensure that the succession strategy moved forward vigorously.

Second, the so-called ‘public consultation’ process –

My view of this whole exercise is that is so flawed that it is of absolutely no credible value, and therefore should be deemed null and void.

I would strongly recommend to Wirral Councillors and Chief Officers that they should have listened to Wirral people – not only businesses – first, before engaging in this seriously flawed, farcical ‘public consultation’ exercise with a pre-determined scheme.
Merseytravel, Wirral Council and the Wirral Chamber of Commerce do not own Birkenhead and Hamilton Square, they have stewardship and responsibility for it on behalf of the Wirral public…Birkenhead BID and Wirral Council  are content to exclude local communities, which speaks volumes regarding accountability and the public service function of Wirral Council and its relationship with Wirral Chamber of Commerce.
The so-called ‘public consultation’ is yet another, fundamentally flawed, Wirral Council process, in that there has been no prior public consultation regarding how the people of Wirral view Hamilton Square, why they stay away, and what will attract visitors to Wirral, to spend time/money in the area. It would appear that 4 alternative new schemes have been produced, but only one put out for ‘public consultation’? Why?

This creates a serious consideration of bias, accuracy of information, the possibility of a biassed outcome due to misinformation (ie lack of alternative views due to previous, behind closed doors, selection). More worryingly, previous consultations may point to the possibility of disinformation being promoted to ensure an outcome that may well not reflect in any way public need or true public opinion, and raise additional questions regarding propriety, transparency and accountability.

The promoted process of communication, or public interaction, to convey opinions and/or objections has been very limited; as has the timescale for consultation. There is the obvious potential exclusion of a number of sections of the Wirral-wide community due to the almost exclusive ‘internet-only’ promotion of the council route via which to lodge objections. For those individuals without domestic internet provision, they may well be denied access due to severely reduced library opening hours and thereby excludes those who use the internet access facility provided by libraries.

This point is important, but particularly relevant in the context of proposed changes to Wirral Council Cabinet meeting times. The advertised time for the proclaimed Hamilton Square ‘public consultation’ drop-in viewing at Birkenhead Town Hall was 3pm – 7pm. This was in what appear to be fairly poor surroundings, attended by ill-informed invigilating staff and representatives from the scheme’s developers. Presumably, this was in some way considered to be the time of day that would enable the greatest number of potential attendees to inspect the proposal? One obvious observation comes to mind related to this decision, but is applicable to something else. If this is the basis for the choice of this timing, why is Wirral Council considering moving public Cabinet meetings to 10am on a Monday morning, if not to exclude, or reduce  public attendance?

In terms of equality of opportunity to be fully consulted, this has actively been denied to people with limited mobility, lack of transport and internet access. Hamilton Square may currently be the neglected ‘jewel in the crown’ of Birkenhead, but Birkenhead Town Hall is one of Wirral’s most impressive buildings, and contained within a public square of European importance, in terms of its architectural, historic and heritage merits. Due to the Pay & Display parking scheme in and around Hamilton Square this creates discrimination also between potential attendees who have to travel a distance, may or may not be in employment, but will have to pay to park before 6.30pm, but not between 6.30 and 7.00pm.
Wirral Council, the Accountable Body for SRB schemes.

Wirral Council has an appalling record of failure and wanton waste of public money, running for decades, in central Birkenhead and Woodside. Animation is the key to ‘breathing new life’ (again) into Hamilton Square and the surrounding area (the very starting point for the Hamilton Quarter programme commencing 1995). This new, incomprehensible proposition, judged against many more successful examples including the previous Hamilton Quarter programme, and ‘breathing new life’ into public places across Europe and beyond, illustrates the totally discredited premise upon which this proposal is predicated.
The nature of the businesses currently based in Hamilton Square, mostly do not require footfall to survive. They are predominantly appointments only businesses, there is now a reduced banking presence, but a number of accountants, solicitors, training providers and estate agents, etc. The existing traffic management arrangements are perfectly suitable for these businesses – in fact the bulk of these business were consulted during the Hamilton Quarter redesign of Hamilton Square, and fully supported the changes to reduce through-traffic flows, and create a more ‘pedestrian/public friendly’ environment.

The previous works to pedestrianise Hamilton Square and to make it accessible and usable by the public, including wheelchair users and people with mobility problems, were undertaken after many months of public consultation, plus community access groups advice, and qualified professional advice. The reduction of through-traffic flows aimed to significantly reduce environmental and noise pollution, and vibration damage to the fabric of the buildings.
It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to reintroduce buses and larger commercial vehicles into Hamilton Street and Hamilton Square. What is the ‘perceived need’ for this change, and where has it been conclusively researched and argued? If the seriously questionable  justification for this proposal is to ‘introduce more activity’ into the Square, this is completely the wrong way of going about it, and Wirral Council is therefore guilty, once again, of failing to learn from its own and others’ experiences which are extremely well documented regarding the use, by the public, of ‘public space’, particularly in an urban environment.

The £82m Hamilton Quarter Project 1995-2002, was designed to ‘breathe new life’ into the area after over 30 years of decline, most of which can be laid squarely at the door of poor Planning and Council decision-making. A prime example of Council driven deterioration and degeneration, of a once thriving retail centre of Birkenhead.

No-one would argue against improvement and progress as concepts, but the reality for Birkenhead has created nothing better than a now 4th-rate shopping experience at best, predominantly created by the actions of the local Council. That sadly is still the position as can be seen from the period between 2002 and the present time. The successive failures of Wirral Council to create a sustainable and adequate succession strategy (or any credible strategy) being a primary cause, but the greatest failure being that  this deterioration has been presided over by a great many of the same politicians over that period, and longer.

As previously mentioned, the Hamilton Quarter created a Birkenhead 2020 Vision for Wirral Council, wholeheartedly supported by Cllr Phil Davies, when there were still 20 years to deliver those aspirations. Now Wirral Council (in the guise of Cllr Phil Davies/Martin Liptrot) tries to be ‘clever’ with 20 – 2020 Vision undeliverable Council ‘pledges’, thinking it’s a good tag line, but true accountability 5 or more years in the future, ie now, is exactly what my objection to this scheme is based upon.

Hamilton Square was partly pedestrianised, and through- traffic reduced, to hand the Square and its surroundings back to the People of Wirral, workers and visitors to enjoy. It also served to reduce traffic noise, pollution, environmental damage and damage to the built environment. remember the electric buses – now that was innovation. This benefited those working in offices around the Square, those using the area, and also served to reduce the environmental pollution continuously damaging the fabric of the largest collection Grade 1 Listed buildings in the UK.

That properly-consulted traffic management change was delivered during the £82m Hamilton Quarter regeneration programme. Over 7 years there developed an extensive programme of cultural activities and indoor and outdoor events, shops, cafes, bars and venues including Pacific Road Arts Centre, Wirral Museum and Historic Archive, the Assembly Rooms (in Birkenhead Town Hall), Shore Road Pumping Station, Egerton Bridge, Woodside Tourism Office, and The QuarterDeck at Woodside.

Above is the list of some of the multi-million pound investments in Hamilton Quarter developments which were instrumental in attracting significant numbers of new people to the area of Hamilton Square and Woodside.

Here below is the multi-million pound list of activities and sites stopped and closed by Wirral Council since the end of the Hamilton Quarter programme.

The extensive programme of cultural activities and indoor and outdoor events were stopped, and Pacific Road Arts Centre, Wirral Museum and Historic Archive, the Assembly Rooms (in Birkenhead Town Hall), Shore Road Pumping Station, Egerton Bridge, Woodside Tourism Office, and The QuarterDeck at Woodside, all closed by Wirral Council.

The introduction of Pay & Display parking was a major contributor to the subsequent decline of the developments, and killed the area of what little ‘new life’ remained.

A number of the funding problems associated with the Hamilton Quarter and resulting in the loss of National and Heritage Lottery funding was precipitated by Wirral Council not committing, in the submission for grants, to the revenue funding for the future operation and maintenance of some of the proposed developments. As a result money had to be redirected from other funding sources to deliver some elements of the programme, which compromised the delivery of various projects, and also the future of completed developments.

The notion of the redesign, and reintroduction of through-traffic to Hamilton Square, particularly across the front of Birkenhead Town Hall, has to be one of the most damaging propositions for the area. The area now, and for the past 10 years has more than a passing resemblance to the Hamilton Square/Woodside before the Hamilton Quarter programme and £82m investment.
Cllr Phil Davies’ original 2020 pledges for Birkenhead 2020 are worthy of review – as they were given in 2000, it is time to look at the state of things after 15 years. Will a media consultant’s advice be ‘Forget all the past – let’s just start again – no-one will notice’.

Given Wirral Council’s track record of significant underachievement and its contribution to further degeneration in central Birkenhead, this proposal indicates to me that there is absolutely no comprehension, understanding, nor expertise at the senior levels in Wirral Council and its Administration.

Just now, the greatest threat to Hamilton Square is Wirral Council shooting itself in the foot, again, with a £1.1m bullet.

Sincerely

Dr Robert B Smith FCMI, FISMM

 
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5 thoughts on “Squaring The Inner Circle

  1. G’day Lordly

    I was firmly put in my place yesterday on John “Tarrantino” Brace’s beautiful blog.

    Jimbobs playing me better than I can do.

    I am so sorry L for forcing the Wirral “Funny” Bizz, Big, ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods farce on everyone four and a half years later.

    I am finally realising that if you ignore something long enough it didn’t actually happen.

    I realise that “The Pretend Friend” didn’t mean to lie to my hero “Highbrow” from day one to date he must have had his fingers crossed.

    I do hope his “friends” are wary, no one likes a liar.

    I realise they had to part company with the principal auditor after she could see as plain as day the asset stripping Lockwood/Harbac and reported accordingly.

    Lordly I can see now why they hid her report for over three years just to save me from myself.

    My Lord I can now see why thanks to Jimbobs they paid Grant Thornton £50,000.00 plus to investigate Big, ISUS and Working Neighbourhoods but the brief said they couldn’t interrogate staff then hide the report.

    I can see now why they paid off the chief internal auditor with about £40,000.00 because he replaced the principal auditor’s report with a croc of shit according to the previous dodgy CEO.

    Please don’t join the list of dodgy CEO’s, other dodgy senior officers are available, at Wirral Ecca.

    Stay hiding under your desk, or speak up if you have the cojones you have nothing to lose.

    I can see why “Phil the Very Very Deluded Dill” hid the Grant (with their £50,000.00 bonus) report for a year or two.

    I can now see My Lovely why when “Highbrow” and I met with “The Shyster” “The Pretend Friend” and “Rent an auditor that will do as told” “The Shyster” said he wasn’t there and he hadn’t read the report.

    He was L, he is all over my emails but like Jimbobs he says he didn’t read me but funnily knows me better than me and said they wouldn’t give me a job.

    Fancy working for them….oh hell yea.

    I can now see why “The Chamber Potty” kept her gob shut when told by the villains she is now working with a Sir at her favourite game of give money away but not mine.

    She was there and Wirral “Funny” Bizz thank her sincerely in her part in the £2,000,000.00 knock off.

    I am so glad Jimbobs likes my humour enough to copy it. X

    Ooroo

    James

    Ps Lordsville I could go on but you wouldn’t believe how bored I get with this topic.

    Please put a decent end to it Ecca, you weren’t their, do the right thing, trust me you have nothing to lose and you could give Wirral back its self respect.

    Luv you My Hero more than the number of times “Ankles” said we have lessons to learn lessons to learn at “Crapapples Fudge It and Risk It Mis-Management Committee before piling into Jimbobs Booze Bus.

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  2. It’s really no accident that ‘the people’ of The Wirral are emerging and making their feelings clear to WBC and begging the Council to ‘stop’. It’s a perfectly natural progression if you ask me. There was once a time when we’d all accept whatever it was they decided to spoon feed us because that’s the way we’ve all been socially engineered into behaving believing that, if you live on the big house on the hill, you describe yourself as politically active and you’ve won a local seat on the Council, you must be a good and thoroughly trustworthy sort who’s worth listening to.
    Course, nowadays it’s all changed. No longer do the people of the Wirral open their mouths and swallow whatever it is they pour upon the spoon believing that the Council have the ability to pull an economic lever, build or destroy something and create us all a thousand jobs, prosperity for decades to come and the golden opportunity to save ourselves a million quid. Judging by the views of Doctor Smith, Wirral Fighting Back, the comments transmitted upon the Globe and of course the presence of the mighty, Leaks, Cardin and Brace, it’s clearly obvious that the people of the Wirral now want to know what’s on the spoon, is it tasty and will it cure our many ills. They are also saying, ‘drink it yourself you dirty rotten stinkers. I’ll be damned if I take your dreadful concoction of cunning and guile and corporate sound bites that mean nothing and are hugely costly to those of us who are lawfully required to fund this disfunctional model of local governance. Get stuffed’!
    The times have changed haven’t they? Not only have this Council done what many local authorities have done and pretty much turned everything they’ve glanced at into a bag of rancid rats, they’ve managed to create a bunch of whistleblowers who, unfortunately for the Council hirearchy , are not the sort of individuals who’ll give up, mutter, ‘I’ve had enough’ and clear off home never to be seen again. Sadly for the Council, they’ve still got the Wirral whistleblowers, the Leaks, Brace and Cardin nibbling at their arse end, and there’s no sign their grip will loosen any time soon and tragically, for them, they’ve now got Doctor Smith getting a hold of their flesh and telling all that’ll listen that the proposal concerning Hamilton Square is ‘dog, it’s got fleas and they bite’.
    It’s simply no accident. When you get branded an ‘abnormal’ Council, folk are very likely to think very bad things of you, mistrust your promises of a thousand jobs, the savings of millions of pounds, a thrice monthly trolley dash round Lidl’s and the joyous feeling that the Wirral is twinned with Reno rather than Leatherhead.
    It’s a terrible thing isn’t it? To be described as ‘abnormal’. You wouldn’t want that said of you would you. You’d be an odd sort of fish if you did and yet, in such a very short space of political time, if you choose to believe them and open your mouth and swallow their corporate bucket of sludge of a message, they are now The Most Improved Council. What that means, I’ve no idea but its an award given in recognition that they are now no longer abnormal which I guess means that no matter how bad and disfunctional they once were or still might still be, they’ve got an award that says they are now less abnormal than they once were.

    • As you know Bobby behind the satire at Wirral Leaks lies a very serious intent.The people of Wirral deserve better from their public servants and it seems that only the local blogs are willing to hold the inept,corrupt and morally bankrupt Wirral Council to account.
      We’ve been banging on for what seems like an eternity trying to enlighten the people of Wirral as to what is being done in their name and with their money.
      However for the first time we sense a growing groundswell of support from many people who don’t wish to have their comments published but offer us acknowledgement and encouragement for what we are trying to do via wirralleaks@gmail.com
      This ongoing support is much appreciated.

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