Friends of Hamilton Square Conservation Area held their Third Annual General Meeting on 18 June 2019, where they discussed issues raised during the year, and set out a programme for future years.
What the Friends have done recently…
One of the key activities of the Friends is to give their professional opinion on Planning Applications that are within the Hamilton Square Conservation area. Wirral Council are responsible for taking formal enforcement action in cases when problems are found.
|Case reference||Location||Nature of breach||Outcome|
|ENF/18/00129||Bridge Street||Advertising consent||Unlawful|
|ENF/18/00130||Chester Street||Advertising consent||Lawful|
|ENF/19/00176||Argyle Street Planning (change of use)||Ongoing|
|ENF/19/00220||Hamilton Square||Advertising consent, Listed building consent||Ongoing|
|ENF/19/00221||Hamilton Square||Advertising consent, Listed building consent||Ongoing|
Successful changes you can see…
The Friends monitor, promote and support changes that turn poorly executed building repairs into significant visual improvements, to enhance the whole local area. For example, at the former public house “The Copperfield”, in Hamilton Street. This Grade 2 Listed building had been converted, but the work did not preserve the most significant features of the existing building or the character or appearance of the conservation area. The original windows were lost, and the replacements damaged the appearance of this elegant corner building. The transformation within a year is stunning, with the classic arched windows returned, the distinctive original advertising wall panel restored to its purpose, while allowing a modern interpretation of 19th Century style with use of distinctive contemporary classic colours to rejuvenate the building to a current business use… bringing back life to this important area.
The Friends identified problems with the advertising sign at 47-48 Hamilton Square, a fine Grade I listing building. Wirral Council agreed, deciding that advertising consent should be refused, because it “…appears as an incongruous and alien feature which has a harmful visual impact upon the character of the conservation area and harms the integrity of the Grade I Listed Building.” (ENF/15/00047 and ADV/16/00426). There was no listed building consent. Installing such an advertisement in this location is a criminal offence, subject to summary conviction and a fine of £1000. At the time of the Friends’ Annual General Meeting progress towards prosecution was with Wirral Council.
Other Examples of Success
Another example of advertisements that did not have the necessary consents to be displayed were those erected on lampposts throughout the conservation area. These too have now been taken down, as the photographs below show. Views of the façade of the Grade I Listed Hamilton Square have thus been preserved.
Friends of Hamilton Square aim to provide Conservation advice
However, the Friends recognise that it is not easy to get suitable advice. As part of the future programme to help local businesses and residents improve their environment, the Friends are preparing Local Conservation Advisory Guidance to help local contractors avoid such design errors and procedural omissions within the Conservation Area.
Where does the money to fund these activities come from?
Monies received are exclusively from members’ subscriptions, who form the Friends of Hamilton Square Conservation Area, and any expenditure is strictly controlled by the appointed Chairman and Treasurer. The Friends of Hamilton Square have formal banking arrangements, using the local Yorkshire Bank, Birkenhead. However, the Friends do depend on the enthusiasm, skills and spare time of their members to meet the objects set the Annual General Meeting. If you would like to become involved, simply become a voting member, and, together, help save Historic Birkenhead. Please contact us...
Who to contact….
At the Annual General Meeting, the following people were elected to co-ordinate the objectives of the Friends. You can contact the Friends. Please be aware that the Friends are all volunteers, so please allow time for the Friends to reply.
The group’s Chairman is Philip Barton, a chartered town planner with wide experience of deciding planning and advertisement consent appeals (including enforcement) in conservation areas across both England and Scotland.
The group’s Secretary is Mike Elkerton MBE, a leading expert in access issues and a well-respected figure both locally and nationally.
The group’s Honorary Treasurer is Richard Fassam, an experienced and dedicated environmental campaigner
The group’s Architectural Advisor is Mark Baker, who has a long background in Urban Planning and Construction.
Challenges For The Years Ahead
The Friends are concerned about the appearance of Hamilton Square and the surrounding area, but recognise that there are practical problems in addressing the issues. For example they identified that there was no Wirral Council strategy to tackle bin blight or illegal satellite dish installations. Recognising that there are no easy solutions, the Friends say, “We have to start somewhere…” and they welcome your suggestions to improve visual amenity across the conservation area. If you have an idea, please let them know
Problems of Dereliction in the Conservation Area
There are a number of scenes of dereliction, and, regrettably, some negligent owners remain unchallenged. For example:
70 Argyle Street
50 Hamilton Square
Plans for the Future
There are ambitious development plans for Birkenhead by Wirral Growth Company for the area, which is a public/private partnership between Wirral Council and Commercial Developers. (Please visit Wirral Growth Company). The Friends wish to be actively be involved in shaping those ideas so the benefit the existing residents and businesses, as well as provide for the future planning by, for example, Promoting better use of space, for example in the Argyle Street railway cutting;
Land assembly to co-ordinate a response to dereliction;
Working with local people to persuade local politicians and developers that our past is important to our future by following simple steps of Informing; Educating; Collaborating; and helping the local planning authority and other enforcement agencies to enforce existing rules. The Friends also understand that there are difficulties in those objectives, so discovering what those difficulties are will help in the engagement of everyone in the successful transformation of Birkenhead’s local community.
Objective for 2020 and beyond
The key objective of the Friends is to ensure that regeneration strengthens rather than weakens our built heritage. They are planning to meet that objective by taking unilateral steps to improve the situation by progressing the following methods;
Raising money to buy at risk buildings and land
The Friends are already supporting the Birkenhead & Tranmere Community Benefit Society, which seeks grants to achieve this aim. And they welcome any ideas for additional sourcing of funds.
Preparing our own draft conservation area management plan
The Friends are aware that Wirral Council is under stress for the resources to complete a conservation area management plan, so they have decided to help the residents, local businesses, Wirral Council and outside developers by starting to prepare a draft Conservation Area Management Plan for Hamilton Square Conservation Area. It’s a detailed, technical and complex subject, but step-by-step this can be achieved.
Employing a heritage at risk officer to manage change
Can local people make a difference? Yes, they can. A perfect example is to replicate what Sefton Council has done, in appointing a “heritage at risk officer”. The Friends are aiming to persuade the council that this more cost-effective than enforcement in the long term, but they need your help, just like the residents of Sefton successfully achieved. See how they did that
Political Will – Can you it change?
An inspiring example of grassroots political change comes from Uttlesford (a local government district in Essex, England, based around the market town of Saffron Walden). The population is around 90,000 (2018), so it is about the same size as Birkenhead at 89,000 (2011). It is certainly possible to replicate what residents of Uttlesford have done. If you are willing to be involved in making that change for yourself and generations that follow, please contact us. Without local political will, little will change for the better. At the Annual General Meeting, the Friends discussed the current debate around the general feeling that local people are not being listened to. This appears to be reflected across the whole of Britain. The solution? If you are not happy with your councillor, maybe you should not only vote them out but replace them with your next-door neighbour – or yourself!
What changes do you want to see?
As someone interested in Birkenhead’s history and future, the Friends are very interested to know your thoughts and ideas. For example,
- What are the issues of greatest importance to you?
- How can you see Wirral Growth Company helping?
- What concerns do you have about this public/private partnership?
- What should the Friends be raising with Wirral Growth Company and Wirral Council?