WIRRAL Council is moving ahead with its controversial plans to move Birkenhead Market into a former Argos store.

In December 2023, the council decided to put its long-developed plans to build a new market hall on the former House of Fraser on Grange Road on hold with leaked emails suggesting the plug was pulled as far back as May last year. Since then, a proposal has been developed to move the market into a former Argos store on Princes Pavements which was first reported by the LDRS.

The plan has proved controversial as councillors complained about being “kept in the dark” and market traders, who have campaigned against the move, felt they were not consulted until days before a key meeting on before Christmas. In light of the opposition, councillors decided to explore two alternative schemes.

These included the existing market being redeveloped or a portion of St Johns Pavements renovated. However, on the back of a study conducted over the last three months, Wirral Council officers are recommending councillors move ahead with the Argos proposal when its regeneration committee meets next week, arguing this is the only feasible option.

The council plans to allocate a  maximum of £13.7m towards the scheme and appoint a design team for finishing designs before a planning application is submitted. Once the new market is completed in the former Argos, any traders left in the existing market will be moved over.

If councillors approve the recommendations, the local authority will also formally tell its joint venture developer, the Wirral Growth Company, it will no longer build any new market on the former House of Fraser site. The building on that site has now been demolished but housing still needs to be delivered in the next year to avoid handing back £2m.

£14m of government funding was given to the council to develop a new market on House of Fraser with the rest of the £28m budget made up from money from land sales, developer profits, and potential borrowing. However the final estimated costs for that scheme were put at £31.6m.

The Argos option is the cheapest proposal put forward with a current estimated cost of £8m and is expected to be delivered by February 2026, ahead of a March deadline. A report produced by Corstorphine & Wright for £300,000 looking at all three options said this was the most economical option, simpler with no current tenants, and the existing building “requires little to no adaptation” and “of newer, more modern construction so is likely to need little to no upgrades to the building fabric.”

A council report said this “would see the reuse of a unit that is currently vacant and delivers the space needed to deliver a modern market offer for Birkenhead. The occupation of this unit will provide an anchor to improve footfall and benefit other retailers in the area and improve the net operating income from the council’s estate.”

If the council were to renovate the existing market building, the report said this would cost £17.7m and wouldn’t be completed until March 2027. It said existing traders would need to be relocated during development, a revamped market “may hinder the release of the site as a catalyst for regeneration,” and the building would need significant work as it is “old, in very poor condition, with many components beyond their serviceable lifespan.”

As for the St John’s Pavements option, this would come within the £13.7m budget with an estimated cost of £10.2m. However the report by Corstorphine & Wright said this wouldn’t be delivered until September 2026 and faced challenges with existing leases like that for AgeUK and a need to extend the building. This would also be the smallest market option put forward and the report said it could hinder future regeneration plans.

St Johns and staying in the current market were two options that have been supported by current traders. Market traders have previously opposed Argos pointing to a number of empty stores on Princes Pavements as well as its location on the edge of the town centre.

A report commissioned by the council last year recommended Princes Pavements be demolished to make way for a new community centre in the future though the local authority said that report is now out of date. The report said the current market had “failed.”