Birkenhead Design Guide

Toward New Birkenhead Vernacular

Birkenhead is at an important stage in its history. After several decades of decline since the 1950s the Council has embarked on a comprehensive and transformative regeneration strategy for the town. The Wirral Local Plan Submission Draft 2021 – 2037 (May 2022)s ets out ambitious proposals for the comprehensive regeneration of Birkenhead based on the Draft Birkenhead

2040 Framework. Design quality and the creation of quality places is a key theme of the Framework, not only to create successful ‘beautiful and liveable places’, but to help promote a new housing market in Birkenhead. This Draft Design Guide reflects the Councils commitment to achieving a high quality of design in new buildings and the public realm and it will provide certainty to designers and developers about the minimum standard of design that the Council will expect.

The Design Guide is structured as follows:

  • Part 1 sets out the background, Vision, policy context and how to use the Design Guide
  • Part 2 sets out a comprehensive set of design principles which must be addressed by all new major development in Birkenhead.
  • Birkenhead Public Realm Manual provides guidance on the design of public realm and external places
  • Birkenhead Character Study Companion Document: This provides a detailed description and analysis of Birkenhead including its history, heritage and special characteristics.

Vision

To facilitate the format of the Design Guide we co-created a vision for Birkenhead rooted in the Doughnut Economics and the need to address the social, economic and ecological needs of Birkenhead holistically, and with the focus on the climate emergency. Our vision is the following:

In the future, Birkenhead is a green and resilient 15-minute town complementary to the nearby Liverpool city centre, but with a family-oriented flavour. People choose it because it offers the opportunity to live a rich urban life locally, in the tranquil but extraordinary setting of the Birkenhead docks, the River Mersey, Hamilton Square and its Georgian heritage. Birkenhead is a connected, convenient and enjoyable place to live, work and visit. Opportunities for people from all paths of life create a vibrant urban centre. The town celebrates the memory of the past as it responds to the challenges of a sustainable future, sizing opportunities for inclusive growth.

Streets, buildings and public spaces are locally distinctive. The New Birkenhead Vernacular is firmly rooted in the industrial history and the Georgian and Victorian heritage. It doesn’t mock the past, it is clearly forward-looking and contemporary. Within the Birkenhead skyline, historic and contemporary landmarks form a harmonious counterpart Liverpool. Along the waterfront, residents jog, walk and cycle on the waterfront promenade lined with a cohesive set of buildings filled with cafés and workspaces.

The people of Birkenhead no longer need cars to reach shops, services or schools. The tree-lined streets with connected cycle lanes, generous paving and ample spots to sit and play in have made walking and cycling a local pastime, with children safely cycling back from school next to elderly residents on the way to a local library. The seamless integration of active travel and public transport has the wider Wirral and Liverpool easily accessible without a car.

Birkenhead is a place where people talk to one another. Apartment buildings are centred around shared courtyards for neighbours to meet. Streets are lined with frequent front doors with gathering spaces in front. Incidental play spaces and pocket parks are filled with children playing and with parents going about their lives knowing that their children are safe.

Birkenhead is a green city. Its streets are leafy and its parks and gardens filled with wildlife. The air quality has improved substantially and rivals the countryside. Water flows through the town in connected swales and rain gardens, with flooding the thing of the past.

The streets of Birkenhead are well-proportioned and lined with buildings that clearly define their edges. The New Birkenhead Vernacular has re-instituted the principles of the Laird grid with well-defined urban blocks that clearly delineate fronts and backs of buildings. This helped achieve high building densities without relying on height that is alien to the town.

Birkenhead is the best place to raise a family in the Wirral. It is also the preferred destination for downsizers that choose to live close to friends, jobs and culture. The town offers a wide variety of homes, from generous flats set among leafy gardens, maisonettes with their own front doors and gardens, to townhouses featuring private roof terraces. The homes are comfortable and bright. They are easy to ventilate, and do not overheat. Generous balconies and gardens offer a respite in the summer and high thermal performance keeps the costs down in winter.

Birkenhead is a resilient net zero carbon city. Its buildings are re-used or built with minimal embodied energy. Its waste recycling rates are high and streets free of flytipping thanks to communal underground refuse bins. The affordable and clean district heating network keeps homes warm and the streets are lined with electric vehicles charging points with battery storage systems that keep the cost of driving down for those who have to drive.

Birkenhead has a thriving community because it was the local people that helped transform it. Residents have been involved in the design process among the experts of the Design Review Panel. With stewardship strategies agreed at the outset for any major developments, residents participate in the appropriately funded management of the local assets.