Birkenhead Park

CIVIC SOCIETY SLAMS THREAT TO FAMOUS PARK

MERSEYSIDE Civic Society has denounced the threat to Birkenhead Park by a new housing development as a “land-grab by stealth”, which sets “a dangerous precedent” across the UK.

Wirral Borough Council is set to give the go-ahead to the biggest development yet seen at Birkenhead Park, Wirral, which is Grade I Registered and celebrates its 170th anniversary this year.

It was the world’s first publicly-funded civic park and inspired New York’s Central Park and Liverpool’s Sefton Park. Created by the acclaimed 19th century designer Joseph Paxton, the Park was opened on 5 April, 1847, four years before his sensational Crystal Palace, for London’s Great Exhibition of 1851.

In spite of a £11.25m restoration of Birkenhead Park by Wirral Borough Council from 2007, its Planning Committee has now recommended granting planning permission for a development of 28 new housing units at 54-56 Park Road South and 29 car parking spaces in the rear garden area.

This is an unprecedented size of development at the Park, which profoundly affects its setting and as a result of this the planning application (APP/16/00732) is opposed by The Gardens Trust, The Cheshire Gardens Trust, Conservation Areas Wirral, The Friends of Birkenhead Park, and the Birkenhead Park Management Advisory Committee Conservation Area Sub-Group.

A final decision has been deferred to the next meeting of Wirral’s Planning Committee (18 January 2017).

Merseyside Civic Society strongly backs the Friends of Birkenhead Park belief that such a large-scale development would undermine the heritage integrity of the park and its surrounding landscape.

Prof Robert Lee, of The Friends of Birkenhead Park said:
“Justification for the unprecedented, large-scale development is based on highly questionable data that reflect the developers' intention to maximise the return on their investment.”

He said there is no case for such a large-scale new build which flies in the face of Birkenhead Improvement Commissioners’ original stipulations of 1847 to protect the Park and added:
“It will also inflict irreparable harm on what is a Grade I Registered Park of international importance.”

If the planning application is approved, it is feared this could jeopardise current plans to achieve World Heritage Site status and to secure a further, major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. 
                                                                                        
Jean Grant, Merseyside Civic Society chair, said:
“Given the recent £11.25m investment and concern that Wirral Borough Council has lavished on the Birkenhead Park’s restoration, it is astonishing that this unnecessary development is likely to be allowed.

“This housing application is a land-grab by stealth of our public parks which sets a dangerous precedent not only on Merseyside, but across the UK.

“Is this the best way that Wirral Borough Council, the Park’s current guardian, can celebrate this exceptional piece of civic design in its 170th year?

“Birkenhead is badly in need of assets such as this exceptional Park and they should not be squandered for tawdry short-term gain.

“One hopes that after reviewing the opinion of highly-knowledgeable national bodies that they will abandon this plan.”

The recommendation of Planning Committee is to grant planning permission, but a final decision has been deferred to the next meeting of the Committee (18 January 2017), following a site visit on the previous day.

The planning application has been opposed by The Gardens Trust, the Cheshire Gardens Trust, Conservation Areas Wirral, The Friends of Birkenhead Park, and the Birkenhead Park Management Advisory Committee Conservation Area Sub-Group. I have attached all the submissions, so far, that strongly oppose the plans.

A submission (preferably on headed paper) should be sent to karlspilsbury@wirral.gov.uk