After a year of conflict, frustration and anger, a new chapter in the long history of Birkenhead Market is set to be written.
Since 1835, the market has been at the heart of the town’s retail offering and although it has faced challenges along the way, some feel this year has seen its future cast into doubt more than ever before.
In March, Wirral Council, which acquired the market in 2018, put forward plans for Birkenhead Market to temporarily move to St Werburghs Square, before a new permanent market was ready, probably not before 2025.
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Although striking images of the temporary market were sent out, with Wirral Council boasting about the strengths of its location, many traders were thoroughly unimpressed.
Earlier this year, Andrew Porter, who runs the Quickprint and Accessories stall at the market, said: “80% of traders will walk if this goes ahead and the legacy of the council will be to basically get rid of the market which has been going since 1835."
Then, in early June, a council meeting set to approve the plan was delayed to allow time for more discussions with traders to take place.
Throughout the summer, traders launched tirades against the council.
They thought the stalls in St Werburghs Square were too small, there were not enough of them and that the decision to put some stalls outside meant business would suffer outside of the summer months.
But it looked as if the council would stick to its guns, with some discussions about hosting stalls owned by those who would not move to St Werburghs Square in other parts of the town centre.
However, in a committee meeting on September 29, Cllr Tony Jones, chair of Wirral Council’s Economy and Development Committee, announced a dramatic u-turn.
The St Werburghs Square plan would be ditched, with traders set to move just once, to a new permanent site in the town centre. In the meantime they would stay at the current market, which is open as usual at the moment.
Fears remained among many traders that they would not be able to make it through to the new permanent market, with many wanting the council to secure the former Marks and Spencer building as the market’s full-time home.
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While the authority has not been able to commit to that site, another game changing announcement was made on Thursday.
The market will still move just once, but the council is proposing to use the town’s former House of Fraser building, which has been empty since March 2020, as the base for a new permanent market.
The plan involves the creation of new public realm space linked into St Werburghs Square, with a potential standalone Birkenhead Market building alongside a new residential development.
It is understood that this move will take place in around three years time if traders agree to the plan.
So while the situation does seem more certain than it has been for many months, there is still much to do.
As Tom Roberts, who owns Moneysworth butchers at the market, pointed out to the ECHO on Thursday, traders are yet to see plans or rent costs for the new site.
Some believe there is not enough footfall going past the old House of Fraser to justify moving there.
However, the council has made several concessions to traders over the course of the summer and many traders are more positive about the future than they were earlier this year, as the local authority apparently pledged to do more to support them in a meeting on Wednesday night.
Cllr Jones said: “We have been clear from the outset that we want Birkenhead Market to succeed and we will do what is necessary to make sure it becomes the very heart of Birkenhead town centre.
"We have listened to what the market community have been telling us and acted.
“What I want to see is the council and market community working together to achieve the best option for Birkenhead – their success is dependent on our success in revitalising the town centre, and vice versa.
The Labour councillor added: “This latest proposal ensures that the market remains at the heart of the rebirth of Birkenhead as we move ahead with the town’s biggest regeneration in generations.
“In the meantime – Birkenhead Market remains open for business so please shop local and help independent traders there and across the borough.”
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Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley said: “The plans for the regeneration of Birkenhead are exciting and I welcome them with open arms.
“A vibrant market can and must be at the centre of these plans and I am hopeful that with the proposals for a new site now on the table constructive partnership working can begin between the council and the market retail community.
The Labour MP added: “I am optimistic that the retailers will see that the new proposals can restore our market to its rightful place as a major attraction in Birkenhead for both the town’s residents and for many visitors from across the region.”