17 Oct 2022

Time to deliver Birkenhead's regeneration

Wirral Council has been hugely successful in winning regeneration funds from a variety of schemes. Over £100 million is now available to to fundamentally change and improve Birkenhead. You can watch/read more at:

Birkenhead Regeneration Framework

It's now time to deliver. Recently I have become more and more concerned at delays to regeneration schemes especially at a time of rapid cost inflation. More delays mean more time spent on plans and consultations and less on getting things done.

Nowhere is this more acute than the long delayed Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) scheme to provide segregated cycling infrastructure from Birkenhead right through to New Brighton. This is already several years behind schedule and we are now told that work will not start for a further two years.

This is not acceptable. The council must do better to deliver such vital schemes in a more timely manner. 

I raised this at last week's full council meeting along with concerns about other regeneration schemes for central Birkenhead. The answer I have received is below followed by the question itself. In my view it does not go far enough in providing reassurance that the council will up its game on delivery. This is something myself and other Green councillors will be pressing hard on in the months and years ahead.

Dear Councillor Cleary,

Please see below the response to your question at Council from the Deputy Leader of the Council.

“Thanks for your question and I appreciate your frustrations in this.

There is a keenness  to progress the delivery of active travel schemes and see the benefit of these in our communities as quickly as possible, but I am also conscious of the challenges that we have faced in the last few years regarding the delivery of these schemes in terms of budgets, with increasing costs of materials, and  with some objections and negative feedback when trying to move these projects forward,  we have to follow processes and respond to objections and concerns, which all takes time and resource. 

Officer resource is extremely limited, and we rely on external funding for the delivery of these schemes, working closely with the CA, the DfT and Active Travel England.  Over the past 2 years we have had new guidance come in the form of LTN1/20, which has been incredibly helpful in setting higher standards and ambitions for active travel infrastructure, but this has meant that as a result some schemes have had to be revisited and in places been redesigned, again with implications for budget and timescales.  Ultimately, however this will mean the end result will be a much better scheme will be delivered which would be welcome.

On Thursday, the AT working group met and worked cross party to support officers working on these challenging projects to ensure no unnecessary delays. Where delays are inevitable, they voted to ensure that they have Active Travel England full approval and that delay can be used, wherever possible, to revisit plans that may have been rushed previously due to funding and time constraints and to ensure that all plans are the best they can be and fully approved by ATE. 

I am aware that many authorities around the county are facing similar challenges with increasing scheme costs and opposition to schemes.   I agree, Tower Road is an excellent scheme, but that did face similar challenges which had to be worked through and of course was developed in a different funding and technical standards landscape.

To answer your question, I think that we need to really harness that cross-party support and work as collaboratively as possible.  Officers need our support to progress these schemes and we need to support active travel as a clear and demonstrable way to all standby our commitments to improving the health of Wirral residents and addressing the climate emergency.  Active travel infrastructure will enable people travel safely and cheaply around the borough so we need to visibly support these schemes during consultations – as elected members we can help our residents see the benefits these schemes will bring.  We do need to acknowledge there on occasions there may be impacts on car drivers, but these minor disbenefits are significantly outweighed by the positives. 

I know that Liz is working with officers to ensure increased community and stakeholder engagement via a ramped up Active Travel Forum that will see co-design ahead of schemes to support the future programme of active travel schemes    This will take time, budget and resource but will pay dividends at the delivery stages of a project. 

We do not have enough officer capacity in this area and we are looking to seek further resource through grant funding,  but I would like to put on record however that the determination to try and get things right and deliver high quality schemes in these challenging circumstances is a credit to officers involved and this was recognised unanimously by all parties at the working group meeting. 

We all need to work together to achieve the delivery of these schemes.  Comms will be essential, including understanding that we still have residents and even members unfamiliar with the environmental, public health and legal context for all this good work.

Your support in all of this is very much appreciated, as ever.”


My question concerns the now established pattern of delays in implementing Active Travel schemes and the impact this is having on our capital budgets and this council’s reputation for  delivering on its regeneration ambitions.

This is a Wirral-wide issue but to quote a few examples from my own ward:

It is almost two years since our successful Future High Streets funding award of £25m. However, several of the related schemes have witnessed significant delays. These include the plan to reshape the area around Charing Cross to create a pedestrian friendly environment. This scheme is now scheduled for completion in Q1 2024. Any further delays would see completion extend beyond the deadline required by government.

The same applies to the Conway Street plans to calm traffic and improve pedestrian access from the train station to the town centre.

Even more concerning are the prolonged delays in delivering the segregated cycle route from Birkenhead to New Brighton. This is already several years behind schedule and we are now told that, under current plans, work on phase one will not start for a further two years.

The strong partnership work between the council and the private sector which delivered the successful reshaping of Tower Road has now been replaced with endless rounds of consultation and redesign.

My question is: Does the Deputy Leader share my concern around these delays and what does she think councillors from all parties can do to unblock the log jam and get these and other Active Travel projects moving?

19 Oct 2021

Rewilding Hoylake Beach is not only good for nature, it's essential for the future of Hoylake town

Sadly, last night's meeting of Wirral Council did not debate motion #2 on Hoylake Beach:

link to text of motion

If it had, I would have laid out the following arguments why leaving the beach alone is critical for the future wellbeing of the town itself, never mind the many benefits for nature which are already apparent since the regressive spraying/raking policy was abandoned.


The Green Group rejects the basis of this motion. It is scientifically inaccurate and if adopted would be damaging to the people of Hoylake and beyond, ruinous for wildlife and extremely expensive for Wirral Council.

Spartina is now classified by Natural England as an endemic not an invasive species. It is not invading the North Wirral foreshore; it is migrating as beach levels rise naturally. In fact, it is already virtually extinct at Hoylake and will very likely be replaced by a diverse and rich dune and saltmarsh habitat. In time, the entire North Wirral foreshore will likely revert to sand dunes.

This is fantastic news for Wirral – for our wildlife, our residents and the future financial wellbeing of Wirral Council.

Dunes will defend us from sand storms and sea storm surges without the need for expensive, artificial defences such as currently being implemented for West Kirby at a cost of millions of pounds.

This is because the beach at Hoylake is rising rapidly over time. At present, nearly all of the sand that could reach the promenade is stopped by the sea wall. If, as beach levels continue to rise, we don’t allow sand dunes to form, then we can expect disruptive amounts of sand several times a year. The clean-up costs to the council would be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds, even before you consider the damage to property.

Furthermore, the suggestion in this motion that Spartina could be damaging for migratory birds has no credible basis. In July a letter from the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology corrected the view that the evolution of the foreshore is detrimental to wading birds. In response to this motion, the RSPB’s site manager for the Dee Estuary is again contacting the Council to reiterate this message.

In fact, the rewilding of Hoylake beach is, surprise, surprise, amazing for wildlife. Most notable is the emergence of Linnets (a red-listed endangered species) which have appeared in significant numbers. Pied Wagtails, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Starlings, Plovers and Snow Buntings are just some of the birds seen in greater numbers since we stopped spraying and raking Hoylake Beach. More and more people are coming to Hoylake for bird watching. The frequent postings of bird life on social media are a joy to behold. This of course reflects the increased volume of plants and insects for birds to feed on.

All of the existing and emerging evidence supports the view that leaving our foreshore to evolve naturally has multiple benefits. It is also entirely consistent with Natural England guidance to local authorities which includes deploying nature-based solutions by default and ensuring wildlife thrives within protected areas on land and sea.

Just last month the Joint Nature Conservation Committee which includes Natural England issued the Nature Positive 2030 report:

link to Nature Positive 2030 Summary Report

The report places the ecological crisis and biodiversity loss on an equal footing with the climate crisis because curbing climate breakdown goes hand in hand with protecting nature to benefit both humans and wildlife.

The main thrust of the report is that we need to tackle the twin crises of climate and biodiversity loss together.

The report identified 9 changes that can be delivered NOW by national and local governments.   

This motion clearly goes against their recommendations.

For example 

  • Ensure wildlife thrives within protected areas - these areas are precious and need to be the beating hearts of nature networks. The beach in Wirral is nationally and internationally protected. 
  • Invest in habitat restoration and creation to strengthen nature networks - we need to create large areas of protected wildlife habitat 
  • Adopt targets to become nature positive, so that nature goals are put on an equal footing with climate change ambitions

but especially 

  • Deploy Nature-based solutions by default - decision-makers need to start asking can nature provide a solution.

At Hoylake, nature is the solution and it is our duty as councillors to sustain and support that solution.



12 Aug 2021

Why changes to car parking charges are good for Wirral


There is a lot of coverage in the press and on social media on agreed changes to car parking charges in Wirral. There are many reasons why I voted for this change. I’ve tried to set them out as briefly and clearly as possible below:


Wirral Council faces an acute budget crisis that threatens the provision of essential services. The government has agreed in principle to lend £10.7 million to cover this year’s shortfall. However, this money is not guaranteed and is dependent upon a robust plan to balance our finances for the current year and over the longer term.

Our most recent budget, which was agreed unanimously in March, includes a provision to increase revenue from car parking by £1 million. The Environment Committee has fulfilled its remit to provide for this following an extensive review of charges. This review commenced back in October last year. 20 different options were presented to members which were gradually reduced down to those considered at its meeting in May. There has been ample time for everyone involved to ask questions and gather relevant information. Charges at existing paid-for car parks will be standardised at £1 per hour up to a maximum of £5 per day. There will be a public consultation on introducing charges for those car parks which are currently free and at a variety of on-street coastal locations.

By law, Wirral Council cannot make a profit from car parking charges. These changes would mean the car parking service would, at last, “wash its face” and would no longer be a drain on other council services.


Stark inequalities across Wirral’s population are well known and well documented. Inequalities are acute when it comes to transport due to the high cost of public transport relative to the private car. These inequalities are exacerbated due to the long-standing priority given to traffic flow. This has led to much of our urban design being focused on traffic rather than people (which we are now investing heavily in to try and reverse via our regeneration schemes, especially in Birkenhead). This leads to inherent discrimination against non-car owners who disproportionately suffer the negative side effects from a degraded local environment and poor air quality. This in turn contributes to health inequalities and reduced life expectancy – respiratory failure is one of the four main health conditions contributing to massive differences in life expectancy across Wirral.

Furthermore, we know that 24% of Wirral adults are classified as “inactive” getting less than 30 minutes exercise per week. We have obligations as a council to address this and to consider appropriate measures that encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport.

Car parking charges can assist all of the above by reducing car journeys, easing congestion and addressing the socially regressive effects caused by free parking provision which forces the, generally less well off, non-car owners to subsidise parking provision for wealthier car owners.


As the expert witness at our committee meeting made clear, published research does not support the instinctive view that proportionate parking charges damage town centres. The more successful town centres actively discourage traffic and create cleaner, more pleasant town centre environments where people can shop safely. There is a clear trend towards this across the country and beyond. Where charges are introduced, evidence suggests that there may be a short-term reduction is usage but, over a relatively short period, this tends to recover.

In addition, car parking charges encourage the efficient use of parking spaces. As surveys consistently show, anxiety about the availability of parking is of more concern to most drivers than charges. It follows that free parking provision in our coastal areas leads to the inefficient use of parking spaces, heightens anxiety around availability and increases congestion and pollution as drivers search out free parking spaces. Far better to have a consistent charging regime with appropriate use of resident parking schemes should displacement create localised problems.

None of the above should detract in any way from some terrible planning decisions made by Wirral Council in the past. Permitting retail parks such as The Croft in Bromborough, where the council has no control over parking conditions, was always going to undermine our traditional town centres. This is now exacerbated by a seemingly endless stream of new supermarket permissions which further erode town centre viability.


Basic economics teaches us that raising the price of any good or service reduces demand. Introducing or increasing car parking charges will lead to lower demand and will cut car journeys. Some people will use alternatives – notably walking to local shops rather than driving or making use of their free bus pass. Others will use their car more efficiently and do a larger shop in one go rather than making multiple trips.

It follows that charges will result in lower emissions of carbon and also particulates that affect air quality. It is worth noting that the all-party committee on climate change estimates that, even with full electrification of road transport, we still need to reduce car miles travelled by 17% to meet our current (inadequate) carbon targets.

In summary, these changes are, I believe, a proportionate response to a financial crisis and will correct a long-standing socially regressive policy while at the same time helping the council to meet its health and environmental policies.