PLANS for a multi-million pound Youth Zone in Birkenhead have been approved by Wirral Council.

The "Hive Youth Zone" will be built on Exmouth Street near the fire station and is expected to open at the end of next year. 

The project will cost around £6m to complete and annual running costs are estimated at around £1m.

The scheme has been in development for three years - and has not been without its critics.

Late last year Oxton Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Kelly said there was no doubt in his mind the youth zone was being developed "at the expense of all other youth clubs in Wirral."

However, the service will offer a huge range of activities for young people including; dance, sport, art, music and media studies.

John Syvret, chief executive of Cammell Laird Group and chairman of independent charity Wirral Youth Zone - which will be running the centre - said: "A lot of hard work went into submitting the Youth Zone's planning application and we are delighted that hard work has now paid off.

"The potential this has for the whole borough and its future generation is unprecedented – it will change the lives of thousands of young people.

"Young people of Wirral want and need this facility and with the planning application given the green light, we can now look ahead to construction work commencing.”

Wirral Council leader Cllr Phil Davies said: "As a major funder of the project, we are thrilled the Youth Zone is moving forward.

"The opportunities it will offer young people from sports to media, arts and preparing for work are hugely exciting.

"Not only will it offer a safe and inspiring place for young people to meet, but it also will play an important part in helping deliver our 2020 pledges to raise young people's aspirations, provide jobs, and help them achieve their true potential.

"The project will benefit the whole borough and we look forward to seeing it take shape."

Councillor Kelly, who lost his seat in May's local elections,  pointed out last November that feedback following the council-run "What Really Matters" budget consultation showed a majority of respondents rejected proposed cuts in youth service provision.

It found that 64% of people either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea, and many raised concerns about the ability of young people outside central Birkenhead to travel to the venue.

Councillor Kelly said at the time: "There is no doubt in my mind that the youth zone is being developed at the expense of all other youth clubs in Wirral.

"I believe it would be more cost effective for the council to use some of this money to improve Wirral's existing youth offer which should be based in local communities where young people need not travel far from home.

"A fundamental review of this project is needed and young people from across the borough should be engaged in a fresh consultation."