West Kirby Working Group by jennyyingdi

VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 9

									West Kirby Working Group
26 November 2008

    A REPRESENTATION TO WIRRAL COUNCIL ON THE “SAIL” PROJECT
     (HOTEL AND SAILING SCHOOL) PROPOSED FOR THE WEST KIRBY
                           COMMUNITY

                                       INTRODUCTION

1. We are grateful for the very considerable effort made to renew and invest in the
area’s infrastructure and amenity, and recognise that the Council has difficult balances
to strike between this and the more pressing needs of the very deprived areas of the
Borough. However, we are concerned about some of the plans, notably the “Sail”
(Hotel and Sailing School) project at the West Kirby promenade, which currently
causes more disquiet and, in some cases passionate opposition, than any other
regeneration project in our area.

2. Council officers and our MP have expressed the view that this is a marvellous
opportunity to invest in West Kirby, but there are many who see the project in its
present form as ill-conceived, poorly located and, to date, ineptly executed by the
developer. Some of our concerns are not new, having been expressed in the
consultation on the Masterplan for the Regeneration of Hoylake and West Kirby and
since, but without effect.

3. This representation to the Council argues that the case for the project has not been
made, and that misgivings about the concept and the developer’s execution of the
project are well-founded. We criticise the concept and the consultation, we express
reasons for the disquiet about the project, we summarise the unanswered but
fundamental questions, we suggest alternative approaches in line with Government
and Council policies, and we offer recommendations. We conclude that there is
political hazard on the course the Council is steering, but that can and should be
avoided.

                                        THE CONCEPT

4. The project sprang from a proposal within the 8 Point Plan, taken up in the Master
Plan, to upgrade or replace the Sailing School, which was in an unsatisfactory
condition. It seemed that the Council did not have funding for such a scheme as it was
prioritising expenditure elsewhere, and so the options considered were either to do
nothing or to attract private investment. Initially, ideas1 to attract private money
included a specialist outdoor wear shop, chandlery, café or restaurant on the Sailing
School site. There was no mention of a hotel at this point. After options and bids
were considered, the proposal which took root with the Council was one in which a
developer would be given a long lease on the promenade car park at a peppercorn rent

1
  Metropolitan Borough of Wirral Economic Regeneration & Planning Strategy Select Committee –
13th October 2005 – Report of the Deputy Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Services, Paragraph
2.3
_______________________________________________________________________


                                                 1
and be given permission to build a hotel if, in return, it redeveloped the Sailing Club.
Therefore the rationale for the Hotel itself does not appear to rest on the well-being of
the people of West Kirby and the rest of Wirral, but solely on attracting a developer
for the Sailing School. This seems a tenuous conceptual basis for the Hotel.

5. The concept does not follow the principles of the Government’s Initiative for
“Strong and Prosperous Communities” which emphasise community-led
redevelopment, nor has a grant-led redevelopment been adopted. The concept is also
inconsistent with the Council’s Cultural Services Review recommendation for
devolved responsibility to the community for facilities such as the Sailing School. We
argue that this is regrettable, but that it is not too late to alter the concept, as outlined
later in our alternatives.

                                 THE CONSULTATION
                      [This section reproduces the relevant text from our
                     Representation on Consultation of 18 November 2008]

6.. The consultation for the Sailing School and Hotel project has been described as
inept by a great many people, including some who might favour the project. At the
public meeting at the Black Horse Hill School in February 2008, the Council
presentation was professional and open, but it made a series of unsupported assertions
about the supposed benefits of a hotel on this site to Wirral’s and West Kirby’s
economy and employment. It posed many questions, which the meeting was told
would be answered by Carpenter Investments who would be running the consultation.
That meeting, subsequent Area Forums and the Contact Group voiced concerns that
the developers could not do this impartially; so there was much interest in their
performance.

7. Carpenter disappointed. Their leaflets advertising their exhibition were posted
only a day before the event and patchily: many people received no invitation,
immediately implying either inefficiency or a cavalier attitude. Press advertisements
for the exhibition did not appear until after the exhibition started. Their exhibition was
staged over three days, which was good, but in a wholly inadequate, cramped space
with poor access to the displays. Designs of the Hotel’s appearance were
undeveloped and there were 3 versions of the Sailing Centre design. People who
attended were frustrated by the paucity of information and the hapless staff protesting
that they should not be expected to have such detail at that stage and should be taken
on trust. They had no convincing explanation of the rationale underpinning the
project, nor any assessment of the effects of removing the Dee Lane car park for day
visitors to the promenade, Sailing Centre and beach, nor the consequences for local
shops and traffic, nor evidence for the asserted benefits to the Wirral economy. The
exhibition changed over the course of the three days, and items that had been shown
to local Councillors were absent for some of the time.

8. Carpenter’s questionnaire was poorly designed in that it went against standard
recommendations. For example, the first question was leading, and was actually
two questions in one, so that respondents had difficulty in answering it using
the options provided. The third question was ambiguous. The logistics were
handled poorly: no questionnaires were available at the start of the exhibition
(enquirers were told that they had not arrived from the printers) and also at



                                              2
other times. Hence many people were deprived of the opportunity to give their
written views. There have also been problems in the analysis of the forms and
interpretation of the results. There has been no discernible attempt to canvass
visitors to West Kirby, which would seem to be necessary as they are the chief
users of the Dee Lane promenade car park. We are providing a detailed critique of
the questionnaire and its process separately.

9. We regret that Carpenter carried out no further consultation nor staged a public
meeting to improve understanding and take suggestions, despite, we understand,
Ward Councillors making four requests, through the Council officers, that they do so.
The last Area Forum, on 28 October 2008, became thick with accusations of
incompetence on Carpenter’s part; and disbelief that as the Cabinet’s decision date
approached, they still had no designs for public appraisal. To date Carpenter has yet
to display their proposed elevations of the Hotel to the public.

               REASONS FOR DISQUIET ABOUT THE PROJECT

THE DEVELOPER

10. Apart from the poor execution of the consultation, typified more by evasion of
questions than answers, there are wider concerns about Carpenter Investments. We
can find little evidence of experience as a developer and perhaps this explains their
performance thus far. Their architects seem to have designed many striking buildings
but we can find little instance of them being constructed. They have yet to consult
with Wirral Council on their Traffic Impact Assessment and their Environment
Statement, which the Council requires as part of the lock-out agreement which expires
in January 2009. Carpenter Investments have failed to win the trust of the people
which they seek.

VALUE FOR MONEY

11. It has been said that the developer’s investment of £12M would be valuable to
West Kirby; but we believe this is money spent largely on his business, not on West
Kirby amenities, except that the sailing school would be replaced and a hotel would
be provided. This begs many questions. Is this the priority for West Kirby? Does the
Sailing School need to be replaced, or is this project bringing a sledgehammer to a nut
which could be cracked with adequate refurbishment funded by other means? What
are the Council’s costs for downstream work such as replacing the lost car-parking
and providing for hotel traffic? How much of the £12m would be paid to the Council
for the use of the land, and is that a true market price? What would be the business
rate income from the Hotel and might that be negated by lost business rate income
from damaged local business? When the dust settles what is the Council budget’s
predicted gain or loss?

EFFECT ON WIRRAL AMENITIES

12. The chief attractions for the residents and day-visitors from all over Wirral and
beyond are the beach, the promenade, the lake, the view across the Dee Estuary to
Wales and Hilbre Island. The special interests are mainly the sailing, windsurfing and
bird watching. The Council’s own tourism advertising highlights the attractions of


                                          3
these spectacular amenities. Yet the Hotel project could damage the availability and
enjoyment of these amenities in very specific ways. Its bulk would obscure the view
and alter the ambience for all those approaching the promenade (as most do) from
Dee Lane. The car park’s removal would take it from its ideal position adjacent to the
end of the promenade, the end of the beach and the Sailing School. As the thousands
of visitors are of all ages and physical ability the proximity of the parking admirably
serves not only the vigorous, but also the disabled, the very young and the very old,
and to remove it elsewhere would seem perverse. The Council has said that the
average occupancy of the car park is 34 cars. This misleads (as averages can). On
fine days, during school holidays and at peak shopping in Morrisons, this car park’s
173 spaces are full, and illegal parking in the residential streets and elsewhere is
frequent.

13. The associated proposal to introduce echelon parking along the promenade,
whilst replacing some of the lost parking and being adjacent to the promenade, would
require the pavement width to be nearly halved, thus damaging the very amenity it
supports. Families would no longer walk abreast, wheelchair and pram users would
be unable to pass one another easily, and on a fine, busy day walking along the
promenade pavement would become cramped. Why devise a scheme which damages
this special Wirral amenity?

EFFECT ON THE ECONOMY AND EMPLOYMENT.

14. There have been claims that the Hotel would boost both the local economy and
the wider Wirral economy, with many benefits for employment. We applaud the
Council’s much needed efforts to achieve these objectives, but in the absence of
research to support the assertions that the Hotel will do this, there is considerable
room for doubt about their plausibility.

15. Local Business. The Hotel plans appear to include retail outlets and conference
facilities. Many West Kirby retailers believe that the Hotel will bring business to
them, and hopefully it would. But if Hotel retailers set up in any of the same
businesses as the local traders, hotel guests’ custom would be far more likely to fall to
the Hotel traders and potentially draw away other custom from local businesses.
Moreover, how likely is it that hotel guests, especially conference users, would walk
into West Kirby, rather than enjoy the Hotel and the main attractions on the edge of
the estuary? If the Hotel were inland, then they would have to walk past the retailers,
bars and restaurants to get to the main attraction, but that is not the proposal. It
cannot be said with any confidence that the Hotel would bring discernible benefits to
local traders. Indeed the construction period could be damaging, albeit only for a
matter of months.

16. The Wirral Economy. It has been asserted that the Hotel and Conference facility
would bring welcome benefits to the Wirral economy. We suppose that this would be
through employment and the use of local contractors and suppliers; but we have seen
no evidence to support the claim. How much local employment of builders, suppliers,
Hotel workers would there be? Is it possible to guarantee through the contract that
the work would go to local people and businesses? If not, there must at least be a
possibility that work would go to outsiders – big business and cheaper incomers as
workers.


                                            4
17. There might be an argument for the potential benefits of a Hotel on this site to the
local and Wirral economies and to employment, but it has not been made.

EFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT

18. To place a large building, full of people, anywhere will increase Wirral’s carbon
footprint, light and noise pollution, and traffic (supply vehicles and cars). Wirral has
signed the Nottingham declaration on climate change.

       “The Declaration recognises the central role of local authorities in leading society's
       response to the challenge of climate change. By signing the Declaration councils
       pledge to systematically address the causes of climate change and to prepare their
       community for its impacts.”

We argue that the promotion of carbon heavy developments such as a hotel goes
against the spirit of the declaration, and to do so would suggest that Wirral does not
think tackling climate change is a priority, whatever the rhetoric.

19. To place a large building in an area of distinctive character could also change the
visible environment for the worse. Images of buildings, based on calculations from
stated room capacity by expert residents, suggest that the visual impact would be
substantial and invasive. The Developer has said the Hotel would be a building of
good design and be in harmony with its surroundings, but his failure to publish
designs gives no means of showing this and no grounds for confidence.

EFFECT ON TOURISM AND LEISURE.

20. There may be a need for more hotels in Wirral to support tourism, leisure and
business, but no figures have been produced to show this. (Perhaps the Council might
ask the North West Tourism Board for overnight accommodation trends.) If there is a
need, it has not been shown that tourism and leisure would benefit from a Hotel on
this site. Perhaps the closing of the old Hydro is instructive, indicating that West
Kirby is more a day-trip destination than a holiday one and that most people only
come on fine days. Certainly Visit Wirral in its recent national campaign has
emphasised

       “Explore this leafy woodland, observe abundant wildlife, and gaze across the
       estuary….. the perfect place to spend a day out with family and friends.“

21. Clearly, the proposed Hotel would offer a beautiful view to draw guests, but
what would holidaymakers do in West Kirby after they have walked and played on
the beach, and in wet weather? If they went to the other Wirral attractions then West
Kirby is not the best springing-off point. Dinghy sailors do not stay in hotels,
especially expensive ones: they use Bed & Breakfast, guest houses or hostels.

22. Conceivably a Hotel on this car park site could damage tourism if it started a
change to the character of West Kirby which is the draw to visitors. All this is
conjecture, but we have seen no study evidence on how a Hotel on this site would
support Wirral tourism and leisure.



                                              5
23. If the Council aims to increase tourism and leisure based on West Kirby’s
strengths (the lake, the Dee Estuary and islands, access to other Wirral and Liverpool
destinations), it is suggested that an expanded Bed & Breakfast sector would benefit
the local people directly (local employment and sourcing from local suppliers), and
would be low-carbon, more adaptable than a large hotel to economic down-turn, and
more affordable for ordinary people to stay.

EFFECT ON RECREATION AND SPORT

24. The loss of the car park and its effect on day-visitors could damage the recreation
of thousands of Wirral people who currently come to walk around the lake or out to
Little Eye and Hilbre, enjoy the views, talk, exercise, and play on the sand. No doubt
many would still come for these wholesome and enjoyable activities, but many,
particularly the very old, the very young and the disabled might well be put off by
remote or difficult parking or a cramped pavement (from echelon parking).

25. The Sailing School’s appeal ought to be enhanced by the project producing better
facilities. However, firstly, who will own the centre and under what terms will it be
run? Unless this is clearly and permanently for the benefit of Wirral people, rather
than as an attractive adjunct to the Hotel, we argue that there is at least a risk that
Wirral would lose a valuable and well-used sporting facility as it is pulled into the
Hotel’s business plan. Secondly, will the Hotel create a wind shadow when the wind
is in the north to north east and would this be detrimental to the training?

RISK OF HOTEL FAILURE

26. Since the Hotel project was first proposed, the economic situation has changed
markedly; spending has dropped, especially on “high-end” luxuries. Moreover, the
Kings Gap Hotel is being enlarged and improved and would compete from nearby
Hoylake. As we are now in a severely recessionary phase of the world economy there
must be a possibility that a hotel business would fail. In this instance, the obvious
alternative use for the building would be flat dwellings. For all but the wealthy
occupiers this would be a dismal outcome. Moreover, the fate of the Sailing School
would be thrown into grave doubt, and the very aim of the whole project, to replace
and preserve the Sailing School, would have signally failed, leaving a block of flats as
the epitaph. We feel sure that the Council will take account of the risk of Hotel
failure and look very closely at the developer’s financial plans against the effects of
the downturn.

FLOOD RISK

27. We understand that the Environmental Agency declared the promenade car park
a flood risk area in 2006, in which development is not recommended. (Water sports
centres would be exempt.) This would seem to be a very good reason, on its own, for
cancelling the project.




                                           6
                            UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

28. We do not claim to be correct in every respect in the arguments above, but rather
that we demonstrate that there are very considerable doubts about the wisdom of the
Hotel/Sailing School scheme, because the following questions have yet to be
answered :

       a. What is the researched evidence that Hotel Project would:

               i. Indicate good value for money?
               ii. Enhance Wirral’s amenities?
               iii. Benefit the West Kirby and wider Wirral economy and
               employment?
               iv. Not damage the environment, but be fully in accordance with the
               Nottingham Declaration?
               v. Facilitate tourism and leisure?
               vi. Improve sport and recreation?
               vii. In the event of hotel business failure, safeguard the Sailing School?

       b. What is the rationale behind:

               i. Removing a day-visitor car park from its place immediately next to
               the amenities it serves?
               ii. Providing echelon parking which cramps the promenade walking
               and wheelchair space?

       c. How would the Council ensure that the Hotel building could never be
       converted to flats?

                            ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS

29.   We offer these alternative ideas, as samples of what might be examined.

       a. Consider alternative management and funding models for the Sailing
       Centre:

               i. Community-led management as in the water sports centre at
               Grimwith in the Yorkshire Dales. A local trust would be consistent
               with the Government’s “Strong and Prosperous Communities” policy,
               the advice of senior Cultural Services officers for parks and sports
               facilities, and the recommendation of the Council’s consultants,
               Strategic Leisure, in the Cultural Services Review of October 2008.

               ii. Grant-funded development such as the successful Sefton Water
               Centre at Crosby Marine Park. Potential grant donors are regeneration
               agencies (NWDA, ERDF, Mersey Waterfront) and sports agencies
               (Sport England, Learning and Skills Council, Lottery).

               iii. Inclusion of some private enterprise that might promote it more
               effectively (e.g. by a website) and extend its facilities (e.g. to include


                                            7
       windsurfer and dinghy hire). Reconsideration of attracting funding
       into the Sailing Centre by opening the site to a café and specialist
       retailers who serve the sailors and day-visitors as well as locals.

b. Re-use the existing, robust sandstone walls of the Sailing School, as the
core of its redevelopment and extension.

c. Look for a hotel site in or just outside West Kirby (eg, at the Concourse, in
an altered Moby Dick pub or in the upper rooms of the Dee Hotel). This
might put it closer to the train and mean not only that the promenade car park
is preserved, but guests would have to walk through the town, past local retail
businesses to reach the big attraction – the Dee Estuary – creating better foot-
fall for traders.

d. On a broader front, switch the emphasis from developments in West Kirby
for the top-end of the market, requiring high carbon emissions, to general
improvement of dilapidated amenities and ecologically kind schemes tailored
to the area’s particular attractions such as:

       i. A sailing and wind surfing centre of excellence for all, including the
       disabled, and especially the young of Wirral;

       ii. A centre to promote family enjoyment of the natural environment:
       a place for teaching ordinary (not the well-off) people conservation,
       park management, the natural world (including art, photography,
       landscape archaeology, nature trails), local history, food production,
       etc, in partnership with organisations like the National Trust and local
       conservation groups.

       iii. Supporting, promoting and extending the local guest house and
       bed & breakfast facilities, which would better withstand the coming
       economic stresses, provide income directly to ordinary people and
       small businesses, and increase the foot-fall for retail traders.

       iv. Promotion of West Kirby as a low-carbon resort where people
       arrive by train and spend their time walking, cycling, sailing, bird-
       watching, enjoying outstanding green spaces such as Ashton Park, and
       other low-carbon activities. For example, West Kirby could join the
       Walkers are Welcome scheme (www.walkersarewelcome.org.uk)
       taking advantage of the mild climate, the shoreline, the National Trust
       areas of Caldy Hill and Thurstaston, and Wirral Country Park to attract
       walkers all year round, especially at off-peak times when areas popular
       for summer walking can be bleak (e.g. the Lakes and Yorkshire Dales).
       This would be consistent with the Transition Town West Kirby
       initiative, Visit Wirral strategy and Wirral Council’s market research




                                   8
                                               RECOMMENDATIONS

30. We recommend that the Council:

       a. Dismisses the current proposal, on the grounds that there are grave doubts
       about the concept and the Developer has performed poorly in executing the
       consultation and providing evidence for the many benefits they claim, and has
       yet to offer deliverable and acceptable proposals for West Kirby.

       b. Examines alternative models for the redevelopment and operation of the
       Sailing School, in particular a devolved community-led management and
       redevelopment model, or a Wirral-led redevelopment using regeneration and
       sports grants as a basis for funding.

       c. Asks local people, and wider Wirral if it sees fit, what they suggest for the
       Sailing Centre, focusing on grant-funding and leadership devolved to local
       people. The Council might even set down a budget and challenge the people
       to find the best way to use it, with or without private money.

       d. Through full consultation selects and implements the most suitable
       management and funding models.

       d. Asks local people and visitors what problems they perceive in West Kirby,
       what their vision for the town is and what renewal and regeneration ideas they
       have.

31. We are ready to assist with implementing these recommendations.

                                           CONCLUSION

32.     We have written previously about political hazards arising from consultation
which does not truly listen to the people. We believe that the Council is heading for
discord with the people if it continues with the Hotel on the West Kirby promenade
car park site as the key to investment in the Sailing School, when there are, on the
face of it, other less controversial options for its redevelopment. The danger is that
people might infer the Council is only interested in big development, however out of
scale, and that the developer has more sway over the Council than the people and their
elected Ward Councillors. Deserved or not, this feeling would be very damaging to
local democracy and to the reputation of the Council for good governance. This bleak
outcome is entirely avoidable with a change of course to one which follows the
Sustainable Community initiative.

   “Wirral’s Sustainable Community Strategy will drive partnership activity in the
 coming years and sets out our ambitions for a more prosperous and equal borough.
 We want to make sure that we address the concerns of the public in the strategy and
     ask people their views about how we can make our vision a reality for all
                              communities in Wirral.”

        Cllr Steve Foulkes, Chair of Wirral’s Local Strategic Partnership and Leader of the Council.

                                       (WBC website 23 Oct 2008)



                                                     9

								
To top