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It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to write a blog article – but something happened last week that has motivated me to write a post.

The town of Kirkby, along with 48 other locations a across the UK, have officially found out that Tesco will not be proceeding with the building of a new superstore.  Now that might not sound like horrendous news to some people, but for the town of Kirkby it sounds the death knell of a much needed and much delayed regeneration scheme pursued by Tesco and their partner: Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council (KMBC).

KMBC entered into an exclusivity deal with Tesco in 2006 as part of the “Destination: Kirkby” project which aimed to bring Everton football club and a large retail development to the centre of a town of ~45 000 people.  The Labour government of the day called in the planning process for a public inquiry which led to the Secretary of State to reject the plan in 2009 due to the inclusion of the stadium.  Knowsley Council and Tesco decided to plough on with the retail development.

Since then not a single new retail building has opened whilst the town centre has been hit by blow after blow.  The only things we have to show for this alliance between Tesco and KMBC is a loss of green space, piles of demolition rubble, derelict houses, a building site of a town centre, the overall loss of community facilities and the overall loss of space for small traders.

Kirkby has its problems – it is one of the most deprived towns in the country.  There are high levels of unemployment, elevated levels of health problems, and public services were inadequate even before the recession.  It needed investment, redevelopment and regeneration, but time and time again the council ignored calls from community groups for a different plan.  Some of these groups collected petitions with over a thousand signatures – well in excess of the council’s own meagre attempts at public engagement.

Now it would be easy to turn and point the finger at Tesco and complain about the actions of this particular huge corporation – but frankly no one is surprised when a profit making company puts profits first.  However, the other partner in this tragic affair – Knowsley Council and the Knowsley Labour Party who run it – need to be held accountable for their failure to act in the interests of the people of Kirkby.

As a result of this catastrophic announcement I have been driven to start an e-petition to the national government calling for a public inquiry into the Knowsley Council’s handling of the project, and the failure of democratic representation within the town to look after the best interests of the local population.

If you agree with me that the people of Kirkby deserve to have answers about this catastrophic failure by Knowsley Council:

Sign this Petition

 

I want to give more detail though, because my summary just doesn’t do this justice:

The Third Centre for Learning

In 2007, Knowsley Council decided that it’s Building Schools for the Future programme no longer needed the 3 new secondary schools in Kirkby that it had planned for, but instead would build only 2.  The site that was vacated was the old All Saints High School site that, coincidentally, was required for the Destination Kirkby plan.  It would have made more sense to abandon the old Brookfield site which was much less central to the town.  Please draw your own conclusions.

Kirkby Library

As part of the plans to redevelop the town centre, the now closed Kirkby Library in Newtown Gardens was due to be replaced by a new build on the old site of Kirkby Swimming Pool (demolished a few years ago) – this is on the outline planning applications from 2010.  According to Knowsley Council staff, it was to be built by Tesco and leased back by the council.  With the onset of the economic downturn Knowsley Council realised it could not afford this and, with the old library set for demolition to make way for retail units, a plan B was needed…

The Kirkby Suite

A fantastic entertainment venue, with the biggest dance floor in the northwest, 3 function rooms, a fully equipped stage for performances, bars and wonderfully helpful staff.  I had my wedding reception there and it proved to be an excellent venue.  But with the collapse of the replacement building plan for the library, it was decided that the axe would fall on the Kirkby Suite – £5 million was spent remodelling the building to take the contents of the library, and move in services from the neighbouring council One Stop Shop building.  The Adult Disability Day Service was also moved in from the soon to be demolished specially outfitted Sedburn Centre in Southdene.  All the entertainment facilities were lost when the Kirkby Suite closed in March 2012, despite me providing this detailed study to Knowsley Council about its costs and value to the community and local economy.

Kirkby Suite

Dressed to impress – the Kirkby Suite before closure of its entertainment facilities

Kirkby Market

Kirkby Market was supposed to be totally refurbished by summer 2013, however it wasn’t until April 2014 that it was finally opened.  The market traders were forced to operate out of temporary stalls for Christmas 2013.  But even now it remains unfinished – coloured fascias are absent and the car park for traders to use is still a building site.  But there was a more sinister upshot to the market being finished…

DSC_0562

An incomplete Kirkby Market – fascias remain missing months after its supposed completion.

Scaling down

In October 2013, Tesco finally decided the scale of its development outstrips even its own expectations for footfall as its profitability slumps. The store in the new plan could have been housed in the north of the town centre where previous owners of the town centre had planned to redevelop the old Asda store site, but they pressed on with attempting to clear the land to the south of Cherryfield Drive.

The InShops

The Inshops was an indoor market providing permanent stalls to independent traders and small super markets.  It was scheduled to be demolished to make way for new retail units as part of the final stages of the Tesco redevelopment.  As I understand it, Tesco was pushing up the rent cost to the operators of the InShops, forcing them to drive up prices for the traders, resulting in a loss of stalls.  When InShops went into administration in winter 2013/14 the Kirkby site had to go.  Knowsley Council stepped in to take over the InShops lease – the council which had facilitated the buying of the InShops complex by Tesco through the exclusivity deal, was now renting the property back from Tesco.  Shortly before the 2014 local elections the council promised they would keep it open for at least 12 months.  It closed in autumn 2014 forcing the remaining traders either to shut up shop or move into the new Kirkby Market.

Closure of Kirkby College

The Kirkby site of Knowsley Community College was closed in summer 2014 as part of a ‘rationalisation of the college estate’.  The college has another site in Roby, and had previously bought an additional site in Huyton.  It then decided it had a surplus in its estate and needed to discard part of it.  It discarded Kirkby.  Since then Knowsley Community College has relocated again to the former site of a Knowsley secondary school which closed due to a lack of students – this school was still costing money though as it was covered by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) used in Knowsley’s Building Schools for the Future programme.  I don’t know what decisions were taken or why, so please draw your own conclusions…

Start here, go to Huyton

An (electronically) defaced Knowsley Community College sign – outside the now closed Kirkby campus.

Kirkby Bus Station

We were told in June 2013 that Kirkby Bus Station would see massive investment to transform it into a modern facility.  To that end, a road and taxi rank have been closed to enable it to happen.  But we’re now in January 2015 and apart from another reassurance in November 2014, there is no sign this project will come to fruition.  In fact it has been stated the reason this hasn’t already happened is because it is tied to the Tesco development – but that is no longer happening.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that I remember the redevelopment of the bus station being touted in 1998 – so the project is at least 17 year behind schedule!

South of Cherryfield Drive

In March 2012 – just prior to the 2012 local elections – the Golden Eagle hotel, nursing home, Dickie Lewis’ bar and the petrol station were all demolished.  The Golden Eagle rubble pile remains there to this day, along with £20,000 worth of advertising hoardings about Tesco’s development which was paid for by Knowsley Council.  Around the same time a number of community support organisations left small buildings along Cherryfield Drive, depriving the town of their services.

Just prior to the 2014 local elections, work was completed on building new houses on St. Kevin’s field a half mile away to provide new homes for the residents of Cherryfield Crescent and Eagle Court.  Their houses were due to be demolished to make way for the Tesco development, but currently stand empty, derelict and surrounded by a range of horrendous-looking fencing.  Prior to the fencing it was well known that the site was attracting anti-social behaviour.

So we lost green space, we lost community services, we gained a pile of rubble, and we gained bunch of empty houses.

Cherryfield Crescent

Derelict housing in Cherryfield Crescent

Public Realm Works – the Elephant in the room

Currently there is a lot of apparent work being undertaken in Kirkby town centre.  Shortly before Christmas 2014, work began on extensive public realm works to install a new public square by the bus station, and a rework of Newtown Gardens.  In doing so a car park used by many  shoppers visiting the Co-operative food store was been lost, a taxi rank has been closed, a bandstand has been demolished, and public artwork in the shape of a clock which was designed by children of Kirkby schools has been scrapped.  Over Christmas these areas became building sites, restricting access to shops and banks and generally creating an eyesore at the busiest time of the year for retailers.  The closure of the taxi rank has had knock-on effects with poorly placed temporary taxi ranks causing traffic problems on Cherryfield Drive.  All this to provide some new block paving, chairs with wings, a metal tree and an elephant in a boat – none of which has been asked for by the people of Kirkby.  The money could have been better spent in numerous ways improving the public realm across Kirkby.

PublicRealmDec2014

Newtown Gardens was reduced to a building site over the Festive Season

Beyond the town centre…

I have only briefly detailed what has gone on in our town centre – when you look across Kirkby there are many more worrying decisions that have been taken that deprive us of services due to a lack of competence by the council.  If you care about your future – wherever you live – please start taking an interest in what is going on in your area, and do something about it.

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