18 Mar 2016

Proper consultation on future plans for Birkenhead

Last Monday's council meeting included a motion on regeneration, specifically referencing plans for Birkenhead. Notable in its absence was any reference to consulting the people of Birkenhead on the plans which will dramatically their lives.

With the help of Lib Dem councillor for Oxton Alan Brighouse I put forward the following amendment which commits the council to meaningful consultation with the people about future plans for the town including the more immediate scheme for the Europa Pools area:

(Insert)
Council believes that the prospects for the regeneration of Birkenhead will be strengthened
if proposals are developed through an open and meaningful consultation with local residents,
if the Constituency Committee is consulted at the earliest stages of any projects, and that
effective, timely and widespread consultation is undertaken  about future investment plans.
Officers be requested to develop mechanisms to establish this for consideration. 

My amendment was passed unanimously and I will be holding the council to its word in the months and years ahead. Below is a copy of my speech in delivering the amendment:


My thanks to Cllr Brighouse for seconding this amendment

Many will have seen the Move Ahead Birkenhead literature and website which has recently been promoted. It has several positive features in terms of its long term aspirations for Birkenhead. It focuses on the right areas – the incredible potential of Woodside and the river front area, Birkenhead's amazing heritage assets, the sad decline of Birkenhead market and how it could be revived.

It also asks the right questions such as how we can revive the waterfront and link it and Hamilton Square to the rest of Birkenhead. How do we create an attractive town that people from outside Birkenhead want to visit. How do we create an attractive environment for people who live and work in Birkenhead and, crucially in my view, how do we exploit Birkenhead's position as the main public transport hub for all of Wirral. There is a strong contintental influence which is very welcome given that urban space in much of Europe is far better planned than in this country.

To quote directly from their literature:

This is a conversation that involves everyone who lives, does business, visits or simply cares about the town. Because we believe it's high time we learned from our past – and looked to the future.

And while it is right and proper that we should have high aspirations for Birkenhead there are also many, many lessons to be learned from the past.

The most recent has to be the thankfully withdrawn and deeply unpopular road scheme for Hamilton Square. If this scheme had been presented in outline form at an early stage to the constituency committee it could have been strangled at birth and much time and aggravation saved. So let's make much more effective use of the constituency committees across Wirral as a sounding board for important proposals.

The Hamilton Square scheme was also a very clear example that when you prioritise traffic movements you get bad town planning. The best town planning is based around people. If you create a pleasant environment for people lots of other good stuff happens.

And that's why this amendment explicitly calls for "open and meaningful" consultation with the people.

On that score and referring back to Move Ahead Birkenhead they recently held a three day publicity exercise in The Pyramids. Unfortunately, only 48 hours notice was given through local media. I as ward councillor wasn't notified. The Birkenhead and Tranmere Neighbourhood Forum and other community groups were not notified. Anybody without internet access was very unlikely to know anything at all about it.

If residents are not consulted properly it is self evident that they are likely to form negative views about the motivation behind these plans.

Which leads me to my final point. While the long term objectives for Birkenhead are excitingly aspirational the near term proposals for Europa Boulevard contain several controversial features. Apart from replacing an existing leisure facility which is less than 20 years old, the over provision for car parking in an area with excellent public transport links is very disappointing. A drive through McDonalds at the centre of the plans surely sends entirely the wrong message about how we should plan and perceive the future for Birkenhead.

So let's start as we mean to continue, by listening to the people we serve and giving them the best possible investment that meets their needs and our aspirations for Birkenhead.

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