Pop Ups For The People

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When we first heard that a disused bank in Hamilton Square had been taken over to house and feed the homeless we naively thought that  Wirral Chamber of  Commerce under the guise of a ‘Birkenhead First ‘ initiative were behind it.

We weren’t just convinced because the former bank was a Barclay’s – which let’s face it has to be the Chamber’s bank of choice! No! -we also found out the ‘Love Activists’ were involved . We assumed this was an offshoot of  the Chamber’s  ‘Fantastic Festival of Beautiful Things’ . All very touchy-feely, hippy -drippy and vaguely nauseating.

Fantastic Festival of BS

Plus the fact it all seemed to encompass two headlining modern themes : ‘pop ups’ and ‘homelessness’ – which all of a sudden are ‘sexy’.  As we know the Chamber of Horrors CEO Paula Basnett can’t open her mouth without using the term ‘pop- ups’  but when it comes to homelessness were not talking about vagrant love we’re talking about how homelessness (like foodbanks) have suddenly become a fashionable issue to be seen to support . Something which shames us all.

Birkenhead First (Among Equals)

Now we hesitate to use the term virtue-signalling because as Aesop said : ” No act of kindness ,no matter how small, is ever wasted” . However there appears to have been a worrying shift from preventing homelessness to sustaining the homeless on the street. Dare we suggest this approach only exacerbates the homelessness situation. There are sandwiches, hot drinks, blankets and even haircuts dispensed by commendable volunteers but no money for support services and a lack of affordable housing which would prevent vulnerable people ending up on the street in the first place!

As far as we’re concerned this is David Cameron’s nightmare vision for a ‘ Big Society’ made flesh . A community of volunteers providing what were essential public services to the vulnerable as there is no other option because public money has been diverted to pay inflated salaries to high level ‘public’ servants who frankly don’t care if the homeless (or any of us) live or die.

Now of course we know that Wirral Chamber of Commerce have nothing whatsoever to do with this particular ‘pop up’ we are warming to the ‘Love Activists’. They even offered our photographer a cup of tea. They seem to understand that life is is rough out there for rough sleepers especially when it isn’t for our rapacious leaders .

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Chamber of Horrors

 

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As we’re still waiting the arrival of Wirral View  we had to console ourselves with the cut out and keep Wirral Chamber of Commerce supplement in this week’s Wirral Globe.

Blimey! – there’s Paula rockin’ the tan enhancing white outfit again . You can sense the middle aged desperation from here. Then there’s some hapless handsome chappy roped in for publicity purposes and Kevin “Addled” Adderley giving us his best death stare. Get over it Kev – Emma never loved you. Either get some counselling or console yourself with the fact you screwed Wirral Council for a bit fat cheque and even as a desperate hasbeen you can still have a sly fag out the back of Egerton House.

We also get the announcement that the Business Improvement District (BID) managed by Wirral Chamber of Commerce won the Place Marketing – Small Location in the BID Awards 2016. Apparently this was due to July’s inaugural ‘Be in Birkenhead Summer Festival’ held in Hamilton Square. Jeezus – there must be so many places on earth that someone would  want to spend summer other than Birkenhead . As Her Ladyship said : ” Book me a flight to Kabul, Aleppo, the Death Valley. Anywhere but bloody Birkenhead in summer “.

No doubt the special attractions of the Birkenhead Summer Festival featured the ‘Smack Shack’ , the ‘Methadone Marquee’ and the ‘Heroin Haven’. They must have come in droves.

After being privy to this good news we are also treated to a list of forthcoming events at  ‘The Lauries Centre’ – which has also now been annexed by the Wirral Chamber of Commerce.

At which point we hand over to one of our many insightful contributors who says :

I see that WBC have picked up an award for ‘Birkenhead First’, a recent regeneration scheme. I mean, do me a favour! What regeneration is this? Each day Birkenhead fills with more homeless beggars, more junkies using Hamilton Square as a toilet, more shops shuttered up, more piles of rubbish in the overpriced car parks in Grange Rd West, more public drinking along Borough Rd. And that’s not to mention the row of boarded up shops which have been there longer than my memory. Charing Cross is a delightful place now it has been regenerated, the boarded up pubs, the all night kebab shops and drinking dens, the crowds of morons spoiling for a fight…a true tourists delight. Did the 6,500 extra visitors enjoy their experience? How does this council get an award for all this?

To which we replied :We think it must be a misprint and the award was for DE- generation.

Our correspondent responded : And now the Wine Lodge is up for sale, I bet that gets boarded up after Xmas. WBC could offer tours to firms of boarder uppers to show them how to shut down and board up an entire town, Charing Cross, the centre of old Birkenhead. I remember the xmas tree on the roundabout as was. Look at it now, criminal……….

Over to you Paula  “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” Basnett – will you be ordering a double Aussie White from Yatesy’s as a bit of Christmas cheer?. We suspect only if someone else is buying and preferably someone with a big chequebook from Wirral Council!.

 

 

 

HQ Deja Vu

Disneyland lights spitting in the face of Hamilton Square's history.

Disneyland lights spitting in the face of Hamilton Square’s history.

Ever get that vague feeling you’ve been somewhere before and discounted the fact you may have been pissed the first time ?.
Well our Hamilton Square revamp “consultation” story has sent some of our readers scurrying down memory lane recalling the horrorshow that was known as the Hamilton Quarter.
From our perspective the Hamilton Quarter amounted to nothing more than the removal of timeworn and cherished iron railings , the installation of cutesy moon and stars light fixtures that wouldn’t look out of place in Disneyland and the proliferation of ne’er do wells intent on Actual Bodily Harm.
However those closer to the action have asked the following pertinent questions :
“Why didn’t the famous Hamilton Quarter have an exit strategy ? Perhaps Power Boy Pip’s leading man at Hamilton Quarter  Ian Walker could answer….in between counting his  redundancy money from HQ and then stepping into a job with the lovely Paula Basnett”
“Why was the Tourist Information Centre ‘given’ to Mersey Ferries…  yep no money changed hands….funny that for a cash strapped Council.
Where any of the HQ offices sold?  – NO !
Might we suggest this flyer could explain why :
Meanwhile a local councillor reminisces :

Many years ago, in the Conference Room at Birkenhead Town Hall, there was a black and white photograph of Hamilton Square.It dated back to the days of Birkenhead Corporation buses, at a time when buses went to the Ferry terminal, and when train passengers might access Hamilton Square station after using the ferry to and from Liverpool.

In those days, too,  the Square was seen as the suitable home of the professions 

Unfortunately the Hamilton Quarter initiative merely ensured that Hamilton Square was the suitable home of the oldest profession!.

Some years later the Hamilton Quarter regeneration scheme concluded that the area would be far more pleasant without through traffic, that the Town Hall required a better setting, that patterns of  economic activity had changed.

I served on the body managing the Hamilton Quarter until I had a series of disagreements and concerns about process, probity, and the quality of some schemes.

Hush your mouth – concerns about process ,probity and quality ? – who do you think you are ?. A responsible public servant?. Get outta here!

Restoring the buildings and improving the environment in the Hamilton Square was, however, a scheme I agreed with.

I have found, in my files, a copy of ‘Hamilton quarterly9’ which proudly announced that..’most of the through traffic has been removed from Hamilton Square’..

Hamilton Quarter half arsed

‘Reduced traffic in and around the Square, together with the pedestrianised areas, have improved accessibility for buses, cyclists and people on foot’.

Subsequently the business case for the Museum at the Town Hall did not stack up and that project did not develop further. Quelle surprise !

It is, therefore, relevant to examine whether opening up the road to two way traffic will further the regeneration of that area. What study has been made of the current uses of the property around the square? Has consultation with the owners established whether their use as office space is highly desirable or is the conversion to quality apartments now more viable?

What data has been taken into account regarding passenger usage following the refurbishment of Hamilton Square station?  Have passengers leaving the station been surveyed as to where they have walked from or are walking to?  Is it established that re-opening that section of road will save the bus operators sufficient costs to justify the investment?

It would be helpful to have such information before committing the level of investment required for the new traffic layout.

The scheme does not appear to represent good value for money when there are many local schemes, throughout Wirral, that the funding could be applied to.

Value for money?.Do you really think that’s the incentive or is it about someone ,somewhere waiting in the wings to make a killing?………………

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