Today I came across this little cherub of a website about the ongoing “regeneration” of Kirkby Town Centre.

As background, some years ago Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, in partnership with Tesco and Everton Football Club, launched the ‘Destination Kirkby’ fiasco.  This was an attempt to place a new stadium for Everton alongside a new retail development, which would be adjacent to a regenerated St. Chad’s Parade: AKA the existing Town Centre.

However, a Public Enquiry decided in November 2009 that the plan should not go ahead as it was not in the best interests of Kirkby.  Since then Tesco has revised its plans, supposedly moving ahead without the stadium component of the plan.  So far there has been little evidence of any work done by Tesco and Knowsley Council to advance the project.  It can be summed up as follows:

  • The closed, dilapidated Golden Eagle Hotel has been knocked down, leaving a huge pile of rubble behind!
  • The Kirkby Suite has been gutted to make way for a ‘modern public services centre’ – you can see commentary on that at KirkbyTown.net and the closure and demolition of the existing Library will no doubt shortly follow the reopening of the ‘redeveloped’ Kirkby Centre.  The complete removal of the Kirkby Suite’s entertainment facilities will result in the net loss of services in Kirkby, not a gain of any sort.
  • They have knocked down the old market, and have started building a new one.  Which is great… except that seems to be a prelude to the closure of the InShops… so another net cut in the services offered to Kirkby’s residents.
  • And… well that’s about it really, save this recent announcement on demolishing housing…

So step-by-step, let’s rip apart this article:

Construction work is under way on the first stage of development to pave way for the new Tesco store in Kirkby’s £200m town centre regeneration.

Contractor Keepmoat is on site at St Kevin’s Drive to build 71 new homes for Plus Dane Group and Cherryfield Co-operative residents who currently live on Cherryfield Drive.

This rather suggests that the housing associations involved are doing the work, and it is not part of the redevelopment funding package.  It should be noted that with a growing population and serious social problems, Kirkby’s green space is being gradually destroyed – with this being one of the final nails in the coffin for open playing fields.

Once the St Kevin’s Drive development has been completed, the residents’ former homes on Cherryfield Drive will be demolished. This will allow construction work to start on the new 146,000 sq ft superstore and retail units in the town centre.

It may very well allow Tesco to begin construction work, but given their fall in profits, withdrawal from the USA, shift in focus to home deliveries and £804m write-down of their UK property portfoilio, one is left wondering whether they actually have any intention of delivering their planned redevelopment.  The worst-case scenario is that these houses on Cherryfield Drive are demolished and, like the Golden Eagle Hotel, remain a pile of rubble for years to come.

Cllr Dave Lonergan, Knowsley Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, economy and skills, said: “It is fantastic to see construction work under way on St Kevin’s Drive and I’m really pleased that residents can now look forward to being in their new homes. The council and our partners have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to drive the regeneration programme forward despite the ongoing national economic difficulties, and I’m delighted that residents can now see visible signs of the great progress we are making in Kirkby.”

Is Cllr Lonergan for real? A few yet-to-be built houses does not represent great progress.  Kirkby Town Centre is a shadow of its former self, Kirkby’s public services are in ruin (with the exception of the sparkly – but PFI funded – Kirkby Health Centre), and there is the imminent threat of the closure of the Kirkby campus of Knowsley Community College.

A spokesman for Tesco said: “This is a huge step forward for the Kirkby town centre regeneration programme. Once the new properties have been built, the vacant houses will be demolished to make way for the new Tesco store and other retail facilities. It is great news for residents that we are about to take such a significant step forward. This is a key milestone in the delivery of the new town centre for Kirkby.”

So, admittedly, Tesco have made a statement saying they are going to go through with the development.  But where are the timescales and what is the final plan?  It has changed frequently.  This has been going on now for a decade or more and all we have are weak statements about ‘huge steps forward’ yet no end in sight for a generation of failure.

Tesco’s plans were approved at the second attempt in 2011. Earlier plans were dismissed after a public inquiry in 2009. The scheme was reduced by 40% from 500,700 sq ft to 300,400 sq ft and a proposed stadium for Everton FC removed.

And 2 years later there hasn’t been a single new build in Kirkby Town Centre.  In fact a good number of shops have emptied because, to my knowledge, Tesco are gradually pushing up the rent of all the Town Centre tenants – as they own pretty much all of it.  In the mean time the people of Kirkby are suffering the ill-effects of years of mismanagement and under-investment.

So in short, this isn’t any major sign of progress, Kirkby Town Centre still looks half abandoned, and Tesco and the entirely Labour controlled Knowsley Council have consigned the residents of Kirkby to a bleak foreseeable future.

Ah, don’t you just love “regeneration”…

4 Comments

  1. I think it is a total joke unless you want to go and have a cheap pint and place a bet on the horses. Shops are emptying by the week, gone are the days when we had somewhere to shop. Studies show we live in a deprived area, not eating the right food etc, surely that is down to the lack of decent shops selling fresh produce there used to be a choice in the ‘townie’ at one point years ago there was Asda, little woods, fine fare, woolworths and many shoe shops, fresh produce shops, now there are no supermarkets no shoe shops or decent clothing shops and only a couple of fresh produce shops………..where did it go wrong ?

    • That is an exceptionally good question. There were plans proposed by the former owners of Kirkby Town Centre for a redevelopment within the existing town centre boundaries, which essentially was to bring the old Asda site back into use as an enlarged supermarket amongst other smaller improvements. That seemed a realistic and easily achieveable plan. However, Knowsley Council decided to follow the ‘Destination Kirkby’ route instead. The root of the problem is that there is little by way of sustained political activism or public debate in Kirkby – which has meant the council has been Labour controlled since its formation in 1974 and they have been able to do as they please.

  2. Nigel Booth

    One positive is the building of the St Chads Centre which centralises much health care in the town centre, meaning more people are likely to support the businesses that survive. A further negative is the increase of parking fees this month

    • Hi Nigel, whilst I haven’t made use of the St. Chad’s Centre myself (on an side, one wonders why it is named after a church in 2013), it does seem to be an impressive facility. It was, to my knowledge, another Private Finance Initiative though – a practice which often strips money away from the public sector and puts once-public assets into the hand of private companies. It is not as though Knowsley has much by way of public assets left. Let’s hope it does help to stimulate the local economy, or at least not add to its problems.

      The parking fees are an uncessary disgrace and it is sad to hear they have gone up. This is another case of the council handing private companies a license to basically print money for themselves.

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