In March 2015 a massive gas explosion destroyed 10 New Ferry businesses and now, along with Birkenhead town centre, the area may finally get the funding it needs to recover. Tony McDonough reports
Wirral’s New Ferry district may finally be about to get the boost it needs more than two years after a devastating explosion destroyed 10 businesses.
It has been shortlisted, along with Birkenhead town centre, for funding from the Government’s £675m Future High Streets Funds aimed at revitalising the UK’s high streets. Wirral Council will now work with local people to take forward the bids.
On a Saturday evening in March 2017, a huge gas explosion ripped through the district, destroying buildings and injuring more than 80 people. The blast could be heard several miles away.
Griffiths the Butcher and Chinese restaurant Lan’s House were among the businesses devastated by the blast and, more than two years on, little has been done to regenerate the neighbourhood.
Wirral Council has provided £200,000 of funding for those most affected by the explosion, as well as successfully bidding to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority for cash to help the town centre.
This is in addition to the investment of nearly £1.3m by the Council to buy key sites in the town centre as part of the development of a masterplan for its regeneration, and in addition to the £400,000 the local authority has already spent on recovery efforts.
However, the council believes funding from the Government could give those regeneration efforts a vital push.
Birkenhead town centre is also in need of assistance. Its once famous and hugely popular historic market now has 92 vacant stalls while the main shopping area lacks diversity both in range of shops and in leisure opportunities.
In the last few weeks, Woodside Ferry Village has been opened by Woodside Area CIC in the Woodside ferry terminal, offering food concessions from well-know Merseyside brands including Caffe Cream and Bacaro.
And last week Make CIC, which already operates two successful hubs for artists and micro businesses in Liverpool, unveiled plans for a £100,000 community hub in Hamilton Square. Property giant Peel has also secured planning consent for a £7.5m for for a business hub at Wirral Waters.
Leader of Wirral Council, Cllr Pat Hackett, said: “We have been working closely with both the communities in these centres to develop plans to ensure their survival and regeneration and make them better prepared to meet the challenges of changing expectations.
“This is a welcome sign from the Government that they are listening to us and, most importantly, to the residents and businesses in these towns and I hope we can now be successful in our bids to help fund the regeneration of both New Ferry and Birkenhead.”
The Future High Streets Fund was set up to support and fund local areas’ plans to make their high streets and town centres fit for the future.
It followed a review commissioned by the Government in which Sir John Timpson identified that high streets are having to evolve and adapt, and that those with a wide choice alongside well designed and planned residential and office space are more resilient to changes such as the increase in online shopping and are adapting more successfully.