Hamilton Square Christmas Lights switch on

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On Friday night I went down to Hamilton Square in Birkenhead to watch the Christmas lights being switched on along with a lot of other people keen to soak up the festive atmosphere.

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This was the first time for ten years that the Square has had Christmas lights.  This year’s event was organised by Birkenhead First and Wirral’s Chamber of Commerce.

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Birkenhead First is a Business Improvement District (BID) which enables businesses within a designated area to fund initiatives and improvements over and above those provided by the local council.

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The Business Improvement District is a partnership between local businesses and Wirral Council, led by a private sector steering group.  Birkenhead First aims to encourage more visitors to and greater investment in Birkenhead town centre. As part of its approach to brightening up Birkenhead they sponsored and funded the Christmas lights this year.

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There were a range of local stores selling everything from chocolate to locally made gin as well as a range of entertainment.  This included a number of attractions for children including Santa and his sleigh, characters from the film Frozen, Fusion Dance Academy and drumming displays from Wirral Samba.

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The team from Wirral Radio entertained the crowds and there was music and Christmas carols from local schools.  Liverpool FC and England footballing legend John Barnes switched on the Hamilton Square Christmas lights at 6pm.

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The couple walking on stilts around the crowd were popular as were the street merchants selling lights and lanterns.  As well as the lights and a Christmas tree outside the town hall there were lights in the trees and on the Square’s ornate street light columns.

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The area around the town hall was certainly jam packed so much so that I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, but I did manage to get a few shots of the lights and activities around the Square.

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There’s no place like home revisited

Way back on the 5th of August 2012 I made a post entitled ‘There’s no place like home’ [see https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/theres-no-place-like-home/ for the full blog].

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In this article I went along to the last site being cleared under the Government’s then ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) in Birkenhead to take some photographs before the houses in the Carrington Street and Milner Street area of north Birkenhead were bulldozed to the ground.  The HMRI programme was designed to remove old obsolete houses and replace them with modern new purpose designed homes.

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Almost four years to the day I returned to the area to see what has happened on the site.  As I reported in my original post the area was in danger of becoming an urban wasteland.  The incoming coalition government had stopped the funding for the Housing Market Renewal programme launched by the former Labour Government in 2002 as part of its austerity measures.

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However during 2012 a coalition government allocation of £7m got a regeneration initiative back on track and some 60 new homes were built off Laird Street at St Josephs Place on another former clearance site.

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Further up Laird Street the redevelopment of Milner, Carrington, Thorneycroft ,Plumer and Rundle Streets was in the pipeline as the second phase to this development when I visited to take photographs of the old dilapidated houses awaiting demolition.

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A private sector developer Keepmoat has now built out the site and they have sold the homes despite the challenging financial climate over the last few years.

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The accent of the regeneration scheme has been on housing affordability.  The properties were made available to purchase through the government-backed ‘Help to Buy’ scheme.  Prospective buyers are offered part ownership of properties of between 25% and 75% to help them get a foot on the housing ladder.  As their financial circumstances improve they will be able to increase their share of ownership.

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Plumer Street, Thorneycroft Street, Carrington Street, Milner Street and Rundle Street have been turned into a new area called St James’ Gate.  This sees the cleared demolition site developed with 125 new build 2, 3 and 4 bedroom modern homes.

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The St James’ Gate development cost around £12.5 million to build.  The site was very popular.  The first seven completed properties were snapped up within two weeks of them being released for sale ‘off plan’.  The remainder of the site has been fully sold and families have all moved in to their brand new homes.  As I wandered around this sunny Sunday morning the residents were all going about their business in sharp contrast to the deserted streets back in 2012.

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The St James’ Gate scheme, together with the previously built St Josephs Place development, means that Keepmoat will have provided a total of 187 new homes in the north Birkenhead area on former clearance sites.

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Wirral Council and Keepmoat have further plans which could see around 400 new homes built in total, completely transforming this part of Birkenhead.

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The Council hopes with the new homes that this part of the town will become a popular and attractive neighbourhood again. The area is certainly much more attractive than the old dilapidated homes I photographed back in 2012.  It is right on the edge of the stunning Birkenhead Park and there has been other investment in the area with a new health centre, retail facilities and good schools nearby.

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I wonder what we may see if we come back in another four years time?

Demolition on Church Road

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The Tranmere area of Birkenhead was part of the then Labour Government’s Housing Market Renewal area where old unsound buildings were to be demolished and new homes and facilities were to be built in their place.

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The centre of this area is Church Road where there has been previous demolition work and the provision of a brand new local shopping area, as well as nearby St Catherine’s Hospital former workhouse building being cleared and replaced with a new modern designed health centre.

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When the Coalition government came to power in 2010 they ended the Housing Market Renewal clearance and redevelopment scheme and many areas were left in limbo.

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However there has been some recent activity on Church Road and the last remaining old boarded up shops are being demolished.

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Work started on the demolition of 25-39 Church Road Birkenhead which is a terrace of two storey buildings with flats to first floor and retail shops to the ground floor.  The shop keepers were re-located to existing shop units further down Church Road.

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I managed to take some photographs as they are being demolished in the bright June sunshine.

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There’s no place like home

Wirral is an area of contrasts with leafy countryside, a varied coastline, affluent suburban areas and urban deprivation.

In 2003 the then government set up ten ‘Market Renewal Pathfinders’ across the north of England to deal with the high number of poor quality houses, problem neighbourhoods and abandoned homes in many of our inner city areas.  The ‘NewHeartlands’ pathfinder was charged with tackling the problems of low demand and housing market collapse in neighbourhoods across Liverpool, Sefton and Wirral.

Birkenhead had been chosen for intervention as it has been identified as an area suffering from severe social problems such as extreme anti-social behaviour and economic difficulties such as plummeting houses prices both of which were causing severe housing market failure.  The plans were to carry out significant clearance of older unpopular houses with the rebuilding of new homes to ensure that blighted parts of Birkenhead would be more attractive places to live for the future.

When the housing market renewal initiative was established in 2003 the programme was expected to last for 10 to 15 years.  Not since the 1960’s, when the landscape of many of our cities changed as councils tackled large scale slum clearance, had we seen such large numbers of homes being demolished to make way for new homes and the remodelling of some of our inner city neighbourhoods.  In Wirral the clearance of old houses with the replacement of new homes had taken place in the worst affected areas of Rock Ferry and Tranmere. The programme then moved on into Birkenhead.

However the programme came to an halt in March 2011 as the incoming coalition government withdrew the public funding as part of their austerity programme as a response to the severe national and international economic crisis.

Funds have been made available to finish off the clearance of the terraced houses in north Birkenhead.  I went along to the last site being cleared to take some photographs before the houses in the Carrington Street and Milner Street area are bulldozed to the ground.

Whilst further down the road the site between Brill Street and Bray Street the old terraced houses have already been cleared and a private developer is building an estate of new houses; up the road the large site cleared of homes on the old Rivers Streets’ estate remains vacant and overgrown except for one last remaining house standing defiantly on Ilchester Road.  The house is supported by two empty tinned up homes on either side and the Union Jack flag boldly flies in the front garden.