The Council confirmed (on 24 May 2019) that it is in discussion with St Modwen about purchasing the assets which St Modwen owns in Kirkby town centre. These assets include the existing shopping centre as well as other sites earmarked for development, including land south of Cherryfield Drive.
We are well aware that there is significant community interest in what is going on in terms of Kirkby town centre – the best way of keeping up to date is to check this page, which will be kept up to date with the latest developments as they happen.
Is there any update on the Council’s offer to St Modwen?
In short, no. The Council submitted an offer to buy St Modwen’s assets in Kirkby town centre on Tuesday, 25 June 2019. We were hoping for a response earlier this week, but, at the time of writing, we still await a response. The details of this offer are commercially sensitive, so we’re unable to disclose them at this time. We have followed up our offer with St Modwen and we will keep you updated once we have received a response.
Where are the negotiations up to between the Council and St Modwen?
Having completed all the necessary work on valuations, the Council made an “in principle” offer to St Modwen on 25 June 2019 – the Council feels that this offer is justifiable and represents value for public money. St Modwen are now considering this offer and we are hoping to agree a deal soon. We are unable to give further details about the offer as it is commercially sensitive at this time. We will provide a further update when St Modwen respond.
Why has the Council made such a radical move?
Put simply, various private sector companies have made a series of promises over decades that they would regenerate Kirkby town centre. None of the private sector plans have ever been delivered. The Council believes strongly that local residents have waited long enough for the redevelopment of their town centre. We have two options in terms of moving forward – either carry on being dependent on the private sector, or alternatively look to take control. The Council has never owned the shopping centre in Kirkby so buying it would be a significant change in direction and also a significant risk. It would be a radical decision and is not a decision to be made lightly – this is not a “normal” thing for a local authority to do.
Where would the money come from?
The Council cannot take control in Kirkby in a way which would damage services or increase Council Tax or Business Rates – we are looking to find a way to buy St Modwen out without putting other key public services at risk and without making the people of Knowsley pay for it. Businesses in Kirkby – both existing and future – will continue to pay rent, so this rental income would be used to fund the purchase over a number of years. It will be important to pay a realistic price and we are also looking at potential support from other investors or grant-making bodies. We have commissioned independent valuations of St Modwen’s assets in Kirkby town centre and are also carrying out an analysis of the potential income from rent – this work will result in an offer to buy the assets and a business plan as to how the purchase will be funded.
Will I be paying for this through an increase to my Council Tax or Business Rates?
No. The Council has no intention of increasing Council Tax or Business Rates to pay for taking control of Kirkby town centre. We hope that new development in Kirkby will attract more people to live in the town (which would generate more Council Tax) and more businesses to locate here (which would generate more in Business Rates), but we do not intend to increase Council Tax or Business Rates to fund the redevelopment of Kirkby town centre.
Why do you think that the Council can succeed in bringing forward the redevelopment?
We are in a different position to the private sector – they need to achieve a profit on such investments, but the Council doesn’t have to generate a return for shareholders and instead we are looking at the wider benefits to the town. We just need to be able to break even for this to be a viable move.
The public sector has a successful track record of delivery – along with our public sector partners, we have promised and already delivered over £100m of investment in Kirkby – the redevelopment of the Kirkby Centre, a new Bus Station, the St Chad’s Health Centre, the new Kirkby Leisure Centre, highways improvements, and a new Kirkby Market. What we now need for Kirkby is an enhanced retail offer, providing our residents with the shops they were promised – and, of course, the supermarket. Everything to deliver this is already in place – planning, occupiers and a contractor – the Council’s primary objective is to get the scheme started.
We know that Kirkby residents have waited a long time for the facilities they need and deserve. By taking control, the Council can finally bring about the redevelopment which has been promised by the private sector for so long.
Won’t it mean going back to the drawing board and starting all over again?
No – the retail scheme already has planning permission and a contractor is on standby ready to build. Morrisons, Home Bargains, KFC and a cinema are all committed to the scheme. If a deal with St Modwen can be agreed, it will include a date for this development to commence. The Council is not starting from scratch – it is our intention to deliver the scheme which St Modwen has promised and nobody has walked away from that scheme.
What timescales are you looking at?
Buying the assets from St Modwen is the quickest way for the Council to be certain that the retail development will happen. There are already plans drawn up, planning approvals in place, and a contractor on standby. So, as along as a deal can be done with St Modwen, we are not starting from scratch. We are in the process of confirming independent valuations of the town centre assets and that will determine how much we should pay and help us understand how we can fund the deal. We hope that St Modwen will make a quick (and positive) decision once our offer is put to them. As soon as we have information to share, we will.
What are you doing about the rubble on the former InShops site which is causing dust?
The piles of rubble are in place because St Modwen has already paid for and completed the necessary demolition works prior to construction of the proposed retail development. The rubble is still in place because it will be re-used in the construction phase. The period between the completion of the demolition work and the start of the next phase has lasted much longer than anybody would have wished. At the present time, this land (and indeed the rubble) is still owned by St Modwen, so the Council asked them to address public concerns about dust. St Modwen has confirmed that work was completed on Tuesday, 11 June 2019 to reduce the heights of the piles of rubble so that they are now lower than the hoardings surrounding the site. The remaining smaller piles of rubble have also been covered with protective sheets to alleviate any further dust problems.
Has the rubble been tested/sampled?
As part of any demolition work, a survey must be undertaken of the building to be demolished. One of the aims of such a survey is to identify the presence of any materials containing asbestos and these must then be removed if they could present a risk. The majority of asbestos removal works must take place under special licence and the process also requires notification to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
A survey of the buildings in this case was carried out prior to the demolition work, and therefore there is no need for any further testing of the rubble. The scheme of works for asbestos removal and management for the site are listed on the HSE’s asbestos system as having been undertaken in 2017.
Is there a “Plan B” if negotiations with St Modwen are unsuccessful?
The Council’s very clear aim is to deliver the development which St Modwen has promised. The plans for the development have already been approved and tenants including Morrisons, Home Bargains and KFC are all still committed to the scheme. In the event that a deal with St Modwen can’t be secured, we would have to look at other sites in or near to the town centre. However, these sites may not provide the same scale of opportunity and would be subject to plans being drawn up, consultations carried out, planning consents sought, and tenants being secured before any construction can commence. This would be a more timely process. Our aim is therefore to agree a deal with St Modwen, and we hope that this will be possible.
What about the land which the Council owns in Kirkby town centre?
Our aim is to deliver the St Modwen retail scheme, so gaining ownership of St Modwen’s land and assets is our priority. At the same time as these negotiations are ongoing, the Council is pushing ahead with site investigation work on smaller pockets of land in and around the town centre, including the former Council building on Cherryfield Drive, the former swimming baths, former library, and former Webster House. The tenders have now been returned (on Friday, 28 June 2019) and will be evaluated next week (week commencing 1 July 2019). We expect to award a contract next week with activity on site then commencing in mid to late July 2019.
Our ambitions for Kirkby have always been much wider than the retail development – it’s about the town centre as a whole so it makes absolute sense to get any land that we own primed and ready for development. Site investigation work will commence over the coming weeks (in July 2019) and will include land surface assessments and other technical assessments. Once complete, the information from these assessments will pave the way for other future developments to the retail scheme.
Why hasn’t the cinema scheme started given that this development will be on land which the Council already owns?
Whilst the cinema scheme is planned on Council-owned land (the former Kirkby Library site), the cinema development was until very recently a St Modwen scheme. St Modwen had committed to deliver it and they had lined up a cinema operator. St Modwen has recently decided to “stand down” from this scheme, so the Council has only recently stepped in and taken control. We are now in discussion with potential occupiers (cinema, restaurants) for the development, but construction cannot start until those occupiers have committed to rent the space. These negotiations are ongoing and are going well. We hope to make progress quickly.
How can I share my suggestions for Kirkby town centre?
The scheme that the Council is looking to deliver was subject to a public consultation process back in 2017, which helped to shape St Modwen’s planning application. We are still looking to deliver that scheme (which has planning approvals and is technically “ready to go”), but we need to secure ownership of the land in order to make it happen. There are 12 Elected Councillors in Kirkby who you can share your views with – their contact details are available on the Council’s website. In addition, you can email your thoughts and suggestions to MajorDevelopments@knowsley.gov.uk.
How are you sharing updates with people who don’t have internet access?
Councillors Graham Morgan, Jayne Aston, and Tony Brennan have been interviewed by BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC North West Today, and the Liverpool Echo – all of those media outlets have aired or published updates as a result. We are providing regular updates to the local media, including The Challenge. Our Elected Members are sharing updates with constituents at their surgeries and other interactions with residents. In addition, residents can use PCs for free in our libraries and One Stop Shops to access the information on our website. In our One Stop Shops, Digital Champions are on hand to help residents to get online and find what they need.
Are the negotiations going to be done in public?
No, unfortunately this wouldn’t be feasible. Private sector businesses don’t generally make public the details of their finances, as they don’t want their competitors to know about their business models etc. The Council has to respect that approach, and the fact that there are commercial sensitivities around our discussions. If we said that we wanted to publicise every aspect of the negotiations, then there would be very little chance of any deal actually being done. The outcomes of our discussions will be shared once they are concluded.
Is it true that the Council is working closely with Lidl?
We are keeping in regular contact with Morrisons who have already committed to coming to Kirkby – it is our very clear priority to deliver a Morrisons store in the heart of the town centre. The Council is definitely not working with Lidl on any scheme for Kirkby town centre, but we do talk to Lidl and other retailers about the potential for stores elsewhere in the Borough.
Residents have asked us to “do something” about the lack of progress by St Modwen in Kirkby town centre and that is exactly what we are doing. It is essential that we don’t waste public money and that we don’t damage key public services by doing this deal. So independent valuations are being carried out and technical market appraisals are ongoing. Our conversations with St Modwen are progressing positively so far and we expect to make an offer in the next few weeks. If and when our offer is accepted, we will confirm and announce a start date for construction on the retail element of the scheme.