Plans to regenerate a town hit by a gas explosion three years ago have been revealed.
New Ferry, in Wirral, saw homes and businesses destroyed by Pascal Blasio’s ‘insurance job gone wrong’ which saw him deliberately blow up his Homes in Style shop in March 2017.
Mr Blasio was jailed for 20 years in October last year, but the town’s people are still dealing with the aftermath of the explosion, such as boarded up shops and derelict buildings.
Wirral Council was widely criticised for its response to the disaster, with many saying it was too slow to support residents personally and invest in regenerating New Ferry.
But now, a future for the town is mapped out by three outline planning applications which promise a better future for New Ferry.
Across the three sites, up to 79 homes, 78 public car parking spaces and 1,050 square metres of retail space are set to be built – with the potential to make New Ferry a vibrant, buzzing district centre once again.
The retail space will be split approximately in half, between Site One which contains 41-43 Bebington Road the site of the explosion and Site Two which includes land off Bebington Road and the existing car park off Grove Street.
Up to 11 apartments – including nine one beds and two two beds, will be built at Site One the site of the explosion, while up to 23 apartments – including 16 one beds and seven two beds, will be built on Site Two.
In addition to this, eight public car parking spaces will remain.
The third site contains Woodhead Street car park and land on New Chester Road.
Up to 15 houses, eight of which will have two bedrooms and seven of which will have three bedrooms, as well as up to 30 apartments – including 12 one beds and 18 two beds, will be built at this site.
70 of the current 179 public car parking spaces will be retained.
To some this may sound like a regular planning application, but to local residents who have been fighting to better a devastated town, it is a lot more than that.
Mark Craig, chair of the New Ferry Residents Association, said: “Of course we are delighted to see things moving, most people have been critical of the council over the last three years and what they have been doing.
“People generally think the council is sitting on piles of money and can just throw it around whenever more money needs spending.
“But it has been a long time coming and it is exciting to see things move a stage closer.”
Wirral Council has sought to buy up lots of property in New Ferry in recent times, spending some of its £1.3m fund to kickstart its New Ferry Regeneration Plan.
The council said some land owners have unrealistic valuations of their properties, which forces the local authority to go through the lengthy compulsory purchase process to gain ownership of them.
This has set plans back.
Mr Craig said that initial proposals for the three sites did not contain any retail space, he felt that would have been a huge missed opportunity to revive New Ferry.
But after locals rejected early ideas, the community put forward a new plan to the council, which included the retail space contained in the current planning applications.
Though some have written off New Ferry’s commercial prospects, Mr Craig thinks there is a great opportunity for small businesses to invest in the town.
He said: “There have been empty shops in New Ferry for a reason.
“Many units are in poor condition, they haven’t had much investment carried out in donkey's years, many have basic toilets, no heating facilities and no internet or telephone connection.
“It’s like being in shops in the 50s or earlier.”
But Mr Craig noted that where good retail units were available, new businesses were coming into the area.
He added: “We’ve got a charity shop, a dog grooming parlour called Paula’s Pampered Pooches, a tattoo parlour and a military shop called Militaria.
“The craft shop Making u Memories has opened on the main cross roads as well.”
Mr Craig was adamant that there was a future for retail in the town if the right sort of businesses grasped the opportunity.
Mr Craig said: “In the future l think district centres will rely on the type of business that doesn't need to rely on the internet, things like cake shops and pet grooming parlours.
“Those traders who are after places where the rent won't be extortionately high and they can get a small to medium sized premises not normally provided in big retail parks.
“What people actually want is the types of shops that will bring people from the surrounding areas into New Ferry, the type of thing you won’t get everywhere.”
In terms of when locals may start to see work on these projects commence, Wirral Council said work to clearout 41-43 Bebington Road and the demolition of derelict buildings at 68-72 Bebington Road need to be carried out before work could begin.
After that happens, the council said while it is difficult to say exactly when construction may begin – especially given the Covid-19 pandemic, it anticipates that work will start at some point next year.
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The local authority also said that it will work to ensure that at least 20% of the new homes are affordable.
In terms of how these plans might transform the retail offering in New Ferry, a spokesperson for Wirral Council said: “It is too early to say what new traders or retailers will be coming into the area, but the council envisages that new, well designed units, along with a redeveloped town centre will be an attractive offer for businesses."