Birkenhead 2040

Frameworks + Masterplans Large Scale
Catalyst project - Dock Branch Park
Illustrative masterplan for town centre and waterfront
Reconnecting the waterfront
Framework plan

A highly ambitious, creative and people centric regeneration programme, defining and promoting the place led transformation of a remarkable waterfront town on a scale of national significance

 

CONTEXT

The topographic, morphological and socio-economic characteristics of Birkenhead create an urban structure and environmental setting like no other: an inspirational place with a rich heritage and deeply embedded sense of place.

World class setting, but an image problem
Founded around the Priory and famous Liverpool ferry, the town encircles the remarkable dock system; 'The Great Float'.

This powerful name invokes a time when Birkenhead was at the forefront of global technological advancement, a formidable industrial port and renowned builder of ships. Resultant wealth led to world firsts - from public parks to street trams and the Mersey tunnels - and created a very special planned Georgian grid.

This history and location set an evocative scene and, for all the current debate around Liverpool’s celebrated waterfront, one thing is for certain: it is a world class environment, and the best views belong to Birkenhead.
Despite these strengths, Birkenhead’s character and identity have been eroded and devalued through post-war decline. Faded industries and deprivation create unsympathetic external perceptions and a reputation of obsolescence.

Shifting perceptions
Through patient engagement and promotion, Birkenhead 2040 has reignited a sense of excitement and belief in the town, revealing its deep qualities and potential.

Demographic characteristics previously regarded as endemic weakness (such as low car ownership and health inequalities) have been placed at the centre of placemaking and physical regeneration response; inspiring new ideas around public realm at strategic and local level to facilitate growth and promote active travel.

Birkenhead 2040 has been developed collaboratively with diverse stakeholders and potential delivery partners, driven by an approach that rediscovers the precious, historic urban structure whilst injecting innovative, inspirational placemaking ideas.

This 'place and people' approach helps Birkenhead 2040 to tap into and celebrate unique assets whilst simultaneously addressing strategic socio-economic weaknesses that have previously inhibited progress.

 

VISION

Birkenhead 2040 aims to reconnect, reimagine, and rediscover Birkenhead as a waterfront urban garden 'city'.
By 2040, Birkenhead will have developed into a thriving urban community at the heart of a vibrant left bank of the iconic river Mersey: reuniting Liverpool with a long-lost sister, unified by a great river.

The town’s current demographic and economic structures present not just constraints but opportunities to be maximised, new roles to be fulfilled and communities to be strengthened. This is a place with great potential to be a location of choice for growing, healthy families and the innovative business entrepreneur alike.

Diverse communities will be drawn by a common affection for this unique, historic waterfront environment, great parks and green spaces, and a vibrant mix of homes, activities, diverse business space, schools and colleges. Birkenhead will be synonymous with creativity, endeavour and fun. Somewhere energic and eclectic but also liveable, human-scale and grounded.

This will be a place of urban neighbourhoods: Communities will experience the connectivity and convenience of city living at the heart of a globally significant city region, yet be able to enjoy an environment in harmony with nature, with room to breathe and grow.

Birkenhead will be a place where people play an active role in a strong local economy, and feel reassured and encouraged to put down roots, with well-performing urban schools and good healthcare giving a solid base, but with a quirky, energetic town centre and easy access to Liverpool providing the necessities and pleasures of modern urban life.

Birkenhead 2040 articulates the route to realising this vision through clear, achievable strategic objectives. Sitting above a neighbourhood or site-specific scale and going beyond only physical interventions, these objectives capture wider design issues and commitments to shape all future decision making, development and investment and technical design solutions.

 

IMPACT

Birkenhead 2040 captures hugely significant opportunities to deliver transformational change over a diverse 700ha urban area with identified potential for c.21,000 new homes and 6,000 new jobs.

Vision and objectives are channelled through clear spatial priorities which define and articulate the potential to elevate quality of life and quality of place; prioritising the transformation of streets and spaces, the rescaling of infrastructure, the rebalancing of the town centre, the accessibility of physical assets, the walkability of the environment.

This is about setting a foundation for low carbon, low consumption lifestyles and providing opportunities to live full and healthy lives: impacts that are people-orientated, humanising and help address the climate crisis.

Impacts will flow from a strong core: Central Birkenhead has a vital role in defining the sense of place, identity and health of the wider town and communities. Birkenhead 2040 aims to address shifts in the traditional role of town centres, post- COVID-19 and beyond by aiming to diversify the town centre offer with a mixed-use commercial core and living space; rebuilding resilience, animation and vibrancy.

A Radical Local Plan
Wirral Council is preparing a new Local Plan, considered to be its most comprehensive development strategy since 1947. The spatial strategy is founded on the intent to meet the Borough’s development needs over the next 15-20 years with existing urban areas, maximising use of brownfield land. Birkenhead 2040 is vital to this approach, providing evidence of capacity and routes to delivery.

The Council regards Birkenhead 2040 as critical to the regeneration of Birkenhead as a green and sustainable town. Proposals taken forward into the Local Plan will be subject to formal Sustainability Appraisal and Habitat Regulations Assessment, a 'sustainability and green strategy' will inform delivery of projects, and Environmental Impact Assessments will be undertaken at planning application stage.

 

DELIVERABILITY

Birkenhead 2040 captures development potential shaped by a sequence of proactive, strategic actions taken by Wirral Council to deliver large-scale regeneration.

This started with collaboration with Peel at Wirral Waters and developed to test delivery options for Council-owned land, culminating in a public/private sector joint venture with Muse: the Wirral Growth Company.

Birkenhead 2040 builds on this and has itself been developed alongside critical delivery actions, including:

  • Engaging with Government and submitting an EoI to establish a Development Corporation (c£750k of revenue funding secured)
  • Dialogue with Homes England to inform a £100m+ funding strategy for wider ‘LeftBank’ area
  • Strategic land acquisition by Wirral Council to enable major project / infrastructure delivery
  • Submission of a successful £25m funding bid to Government via Future High Streets Fund
  • Securing £8m Transforming Cities funding to enable the removal of flyovers in the town centre
  • Securing £25m Town Deal funding

Design guide
The Council is procuring a Design Guide to work in tandem with Birkenhead 2040 and the emerging Local Plan to secure coordinated place-making. The guide will inform and quality-assess individual developments coming forward within the area. A particular focus is a comprehensive public realm strategy and guidance on individual elements of delivery.

Dock Branch Park
As one of the key catalyst projects in Birkenhead 2040, the Council is driving momentum behind the delivery of Dock Branch Park; a proposed mile-long park within a former railway cutting through the heart of the town centre.

Reusing this space as a park will transform active travel choices and access to open space, reveal hidden assets and environments, create new links between neighbourhoods, and unlock development opportunities. The Council placed this project at the heart of its successful Town Fund submission, and committed to commissioning a detailed masterplan and planning application to commence late Summer 2021.

 

WORTH NOTING

Commitment to placemaking
Birkenhead 2040 shows an exemplary placemaking approach.

A clear narrative around quality of place and the value of good design threads through all stages of the process and levels of detail, including; dialogue with partners on the wider Left Bank initiative, articulating the framework for the town, definition of catalyst projects, neighbourhood strategies and funding applications.

The work places urban design at the heart of large-scale regeneration. It has been fundamental to the analysis of challenges faced by the town and its communities, showing a clear understanding of how issues in the physical structure of the environment link to social and economic regeneration.

A design-led approach has been key to:

  • Exploring the role and character of a large and complex urban area
  • Demonstrating the potential for low carbon, brownfield growth
  • Establishing opportunities for active travel and modal shift
  • Highlighting the potential for street-based urbanism that rediscovers and reinforces the quality of the town’s historic built form
  • Capturing the intrinsic value of the Birkenhead’s waterfront setting

Accessible, impactful graphic communication
Birkenhead 2040 has been produced with strong graphic identity, applied consistently to convey a coordinated ‘family’ / suite of documents, to complement the consistent placemaking messages, building confidence and conviction in the potential of the place. This is key to strengthening the communication of vision and key principles, and building consensus behind them.

The innovative use of a town-wide 3D model also create an accessible vision of the place that forms an ongoing tool both for engagement and development control as individual developments come forward.

Urban Design quality in this context enhances the accessibility and impact of the strategy, helping to present something that is appealing, clear and easy to use: not simply a technical document, but an engaging story and proposition that drives change.

Project Team

Wirral Council (Client)
Avison Young
Mott MacDonald

Key Facts

Area: 700 hectares
Timescale: 20 years
Anticipated residents: 46,000
Employment: 6,000 new jobs
Homes: 21,000 new homes
Density: 60+ dwellings per hectare

Key Features
  • Local Plan Document key to supporting densification & brownfield ambitions
  • Framework used to secure funding: £25m Future High Streets Fund; £25m Town Deal; £8m Transforming Cities Fund
  • Strategic land acquisition by Wirral Council to enable major project / infrastructure delivery
  • Dialogue with Homes England to inform a £100m+ funding strategy for wider ‘LeftBank’ area
  • Central government engaged
  • Development Corporation proposed as delivery vehicle