We sincerely hope it’s not the last hurrah from long time Wirral Leaks contributor Dr Robert Smith. But if it is – what a way to go. The ‘Good Doctor’ shows ‘His Lordship’ up for the flâneur that he truly is.
Now whilst we all would like to live in those alluring artist’s impressions this the harsh reality – expertly and forensically laid bare :
Wirral, Wirral Council, and the development of the ‘Masterplan’ over the last 30 years.
Given that Wirral Waters is a 30-year programme of regeneration of derelict docklands, and a number of now-senior councillors in 2018 have been Wirral Councillors for a similar period, I have been taking a look at the history of ‘Masterplanning’ in Wirral and searched for the successes of the last 30 years. With a few exceptions, the greatest success of the last 30 years of Wirral Masterplanning appears to be a huge growth industry in ‘artist’s impressions’, and very little else.
Masterplanning, as opposed to planning or even developing a scheme (remember them?), appears to come into its own in local authorities, with the adoption of quasi-military and business terminology such as ‘strategic planning’, ‘resource development’, and ‘business case’ justifications in the early 1990s, to demonstrate coherent planning, business-like operations and efficient use of resources. Followed swiftly by ‘blue-sky thinking’, ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘joined-up thinking’, ‘picking the low-hanging fruit’ and ‘going on a journey’, etc., etc.; management-speak jargon, as like what it is frequently spoke…
As multiple regeneration funding sources were amalgamated to form the Single Regeneration Budget in the 1990s, and European funding sources and Objective One status came to Merseyside, a more integrated approach to planning and regeneration was required to achieve external funding support. Wirral Council officers were good at that in the 1990s.
After extensive research of Wirral Council and other partners’ efforts at planning across a wide range of services, facilities or developments, it appears that those who claim regularly to have ‘vision’ are proven by results to be the least well-equipped to hold such a self-aggrandising view.
Wirral Council whose motto may as well be ‘Lectiones sunt didici, sed nihil mutare non’ (‘lessons have been learned, but nothing will change’) is an organisation that does not learn from experience, either its own, or that of others. Now there is neither innovation nor inspiration, just copy and pasting of others’ ideas, there is little public ‘buy-in’ due to imposition, and that is why it mostly doesn’t work. And that lack of truly innovative thinking with genuine public consultation generally leads nowhere, except to bitter resentment. Wirral is never now the first to generate and implement an idea (what Wirral used to be famous for, ferries, town planning, trams, guide dogs, ship building, and lots more), but this mediocrity and endless consultancies creates exactly the pattern that has produced Masterplan after Masterplan after Masterplan, few of which have been fully or partly realised.
The pattern of Wirral Council Masterplanning is this: –
Aspiration (‘I have a vision’) – Perspiration (usually other people’s to promote the ‘vision’) – Degeneration (ongoing decline through delay during ‘visioning’) – Desperation (produce another Masterplan) …eat, sleep, rave, repeat…ad infinitum…
It is notable that Cllr Phil Davies, elected as a councillor in 1991, was having a 2020 Vision for Birkenhead in 2001, but only having a 2020 Vision for Wirral in 2015.
Also worthy of note is that between 1990 and 2008 the regeneration programmes of Wirral CityLands, Hamilton Quarter Project, New Wallasey, Lairdside, New Opportunities for Wirral and Wirral Waterfront, represent a collective investment in excess of £500,000,000. The greater part of it spent in Birkenhead. The Council was the accountable body with ultimate responsibility for the programmes and their continuation. Just to note that there has always been a £1bn investment opportunity in Wirral…why not just add more noughts nowadays to look impressive in the media?
However, in recent times when Wirral Council states that is going to be more ‘business-like’ (shouldn’t this have always been the case?) ‘with a private sector head but with a public-sector heart’ as stated by Cllr Ann McLachlan – when a council spokesperson states that Wirral Council collecting statutory Council Tax and Business Rates is business enterprise representing commercial success of the Council, we should know we are really in trouble.
I took more of an interest in the non-statutory range of Masterplans produced by and for Wirral Council (there is a lot of statutory masterplanning as well, such as in 2017 when Ofsted rated Wirral’s Children’s Services “inadequate” after “widespread and serious failures” were found. This is one element of council core business).
When you fail to deliver a number of crucial core public services (the local authority raison d’etre), you’ve ‘taken your eye off the ball’ for far too long. You then descend into the realms of ‘reputation management’ often similar to propaganda, and create the smokescreen of column inches and artists’ impressions, or even local media allies and an in-house ‘newspaper’ to control publicly available information.
But, I digress, the list below is indicative rather than definitive, and focusses mainly towards the north of the borough, as that is where the Council has chosen to concentrate its efforts. I have included relevant media quotes as appropriate.
30+ ‘Masterplans’ in 30 years…that really is Masterplantastic!!
1990-1997 Wirral CityLands April 24th, 1997 Wirral Globe. Council Leader Dave Jackson writes “The work done on Birkenhead town centre is an achievement, but it has also given the impetus to make further commercial development possible.”
1995-2002 Hamilton Quarter Project – £82m to create a cultural and creative industries quarter, rebalance the local residential demographic, and develop attractions. The programme centred on Hamilton Square with a brief to unify the Woodside/Hamilton Square link to the retail centre. Also, to continue the ‘Heritage Trail’ museums package initiated by MDC. “Deputy Wirral Council leader Cllr Phil Davies believes the success of the Hamilton Quarter Project, which has completely rejuvenated this part of Birkenhead, has shown what can be achieved.” (Mike Hornby 11th Jan 2002, Daily Post)
1998-2003 New Wallasey – “More than £9m had been allotted to carry out work in New Brighton and Wallasey, and, at the time, it included ambitious plans to build a Merseyside Imperial War Museum. But many of the hopes fell by the wayside and the scheme came in for much criticism when one of its lasting legacies was the New Brighton clown – a sculpture welcoming people to the town.” Mar 31, 2005 Daily Post
1996-2003 Lairdside – reclamation of derelict land and buildings for re-development and creation of Tranmere Urban Village.
1998-2004 New Opportunities for Wirral – A 6-year scheme aiming to tackle social exclusion and reduce poverty in the Pathways areas on the Wirral.
2000-2008 Wirral Waterfront – £144m programme to implement a comprehensive physical and social regeneration strategy for the Wirral Waterfront from New Brighton taking in Seacombe, pathway areas in Birkenhead, Tranmere and Rock Ferry.
2001-2008 LOBO Loans financial strategy – £137m borrowed from private banks at 6% pa; interest payable £8m pa. Total repayable in excess of £500,000,000 finally to be paid off in 2078; expensive exit penalties making it super-expensive to get out of the loans.
2001-2020 Birkenhead Town Centre 2020 Vision and Strategy January 11th, 2002 Liverpool Daily Post – Deputy Wirral Council leader Cllr 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.”
2002 Enriching Our Lives – Wirral’s first Cultural Strategy, never properly promoted, understood or implemented.
2002 Birkenhead Park £11.3m HLF restoration (completed 2007) a successful project undermined by the Council’s cavalier attitude to the agreed management plan, park maintenance and security.
2004 West Wirral Hoylake & West Kirby Masterplan designed to raise the profile of coastal towns Hoylake and West Kirby,. Consultants brought in by Wirral Council submitted their ideas in 2004. (Shelved 2014)
2006 Woodside Masterplan by Building Design Partnership (BDP) 28th February 2007 “The first phase of works will include the creation of a ‘development spine’ running from the Woodside Ferry Terminal up to Hamilton Square Station”. (Shelved)
2006 Wirral Waters 14th December 2009 Wirral Globe Wirral Council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes said: “This is a significant step in our vision to regenerate Wirral.” Plans for a £200m International Trade Centre (ITC) in Birkenhead that could provide up to 3,000 new jobs have been approved by councillors. The centre, planned for the West Float former docks site, makes up part of the £4.5bn Wirral Waters regeneration scheme planned by developer Peel. 21 September 2011 BBC News
2007 Peach Developments/Neptune Woodside Masterplan May 2007. “The exclusivity agreement between Merseytravel and Neptune Developments and Peach Developments means ambitious plans to redevelop the Woodside area of the Wirral waterfront will go ahead”. Liverpool Echo. Martin Lowe, who runs Peach Developments, said: “I first took the drawings to the council four years ago, and when they saw them, they could see the potential for developing the area, so asked me to work with them. Since then, others have come on board, but the Woodside Hotel remains the lynchpin in the development.”
2007 Brand New Brighton – Neptune Developments scheme to redevelop the Floral Pavilion Theatre, and to develop Marine Point. 2nd September 2013 “New Brighton finally reaps rewards as successful revamp takes off” Wirral Globe. Except that Wirral Council has tried to strangle it at birth by introducing parking charges.
2008 Wirral Council Strategic Asset Review – Epic fail https://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?Id=607
2011 Wirral Heritage Strategy 2011-2014 ‘Making Our Heritage Matter’ Private Eye writes… “that a fire at historic buildings in Wirral is often followed by demolition.” Liscard Hall, Birkenhead Market, ESWA Sports and Social Club, Central Hotel, British Leather Tannery, Woodside Hotel…
2013 Wirral Council and Neptune (later Ion) Development Limited – £30m redevelopment of Birkenhead town centre. The project was due to regenerate the town’s market and rebuild the Europa Pools leisure centre, with restaurants, a food court and a hotel also proposed.
2015 Wirral Council £1.1m Hamilton Square traffic plan – The plans were revised after criticism from businesses, residents and Birkenhead councillor Pat Cleary – who called it a “giant waste of public funds” – and they have now been shelved altogether. Liverpool Echo
2015 Wirral Council and Neptune (later Ion) Development Limited 27 October 2016 BBC News – Cllr Davies said the council continued to have “huge ambitions” for Birkenhead and believed it could be a “fantastic destination”. (Ion, previously Neptune Developments 2013 agreement scrapped 2016 – Council leader Phil Davies said the decision was linked to “more ambitious” development opportunities.)
2015 Wirral Council 2020 Vision (see 2001) – 20 ‘Pledges’. In his own words, Cllr Phil Davies to be held accountable by Wirral public.
2015 Wirral Partnership to pool £2bn public sector budgets by 2020 17th September 2015 Wirral Globe Cllr Phil Davies states “It is our ultimate aim to have a pooled budget by the end of the five-year plan.” Never going to happen.
2015 Hoylake Golf Resort Masterplan 7th December 2017 Wirral Globe Cllr Phil Davies states “This is another example of Wirral Council being commercial, ambitious and innovative.”
2016 Downtown Birkenhead CH41 25th Jan 2016 Liverpool Echo Cllr Phil Davies “This is the biggest regeneration plan I have ever been involved with.”
2016 Wirral’s Culture Strategy – would you know there was one? Not Wirral’s first Cultural Strategy, and will never be properly promoted, understood or implemented.
2016 Wirral Healthcare Masterplan STP – is WBC in or out and for or against, as a Wirral NHS CCG ’partner’…who knows?
2016 Wirral Growth Plan – is this a school project? https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/gallery/new-images-1bn-wirral-growth-13173369
2017 Wirral Growth Company – “The prospect of bringing thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment, into the borough will be life-changing for many of our residents who look to us as a council to set these ambitious visions.”; states Cllr Phil Davies. Wirral Council Chief Executive states it is ‘asset rich, but cash poor’. However, it will transfer publicly-owned assets to the Wirral Growth Company, a private company with its own board. The Council will buy more assets (Birkenhead Market £??, parcels of land £??, Europa Building £8.4m) for which it will borrow many millions to buy. It will then take additional multi-millions in loans to lend to the developers, who presumably won’t be credit-worthy enough in their own right? More interest payments, even asset-richer, loadsa-cash poorer, is the likely outcome for Wirral’s public finances. The financial risk assessment must make for interesting reading.
2017 New plans to turn Birkenhead Town Hall into boutique hotel – Councillor Phil Davies, Leader of the Council, said: “Driving regeneration, creating jobs and ensuring sustainable, long-term growth in our economy is vitally important”.
2017 Birkenhead Market Masterplan – “Birkenhead market could become such a foodie paradise that even celebrity chef Paul Hollywood could be tempted back to Wirral” states Cllr Phil Davies – maybe if Paul Hollywood (celebrity baker, duh) lives long enough….
2018 Wirral Waters1 WW1 – Wirral Waters £175m “International Trade Centre” sunk without trace, and diluted more with a splash of Urban Splash (modular) prefabs…what chance will all the Wirral Met College apprentice brickies have before their retirement?
AS WE COME UP TO DATE FROM CLLR DAVE JACKSONS QUOTE (1997) FROM CITYLANDS (started 1990), I THINK OF THE ‘LOST GENERATIONS’ OF WIRRAL, AND BIRKENHEAD IN PARTICULAR…it looks to me as if another generation will be ‘lost’ to ‘visions’, Wirral residents will be ignored, whilst crucial public services ‘wither on the vine’ due to neglect.
Here are 2 quotes from 2001 and 2017…
2017 Wirral Council Strategic Regeneration Framework Cllr Phil Davies states – “We have not been standing still in recent years, much has been achieved, but we look forward to working together with greater drive and pace in order to realise our shared vision for the borough”.
…and in 2001 Birkenhead Town Centre 2020 Vision – Wirral Council deputy leader Cllr Phil Davies says of the 20-year plan: “After consultations with businesses and the public what has emerged is an exciting vision which shows how Birkenhead can be developed and improved.”
Vision…? …nah…same old, same old…it’s now obviously delusion…