KIRKBY: Long-awaited town centre redevelopment nears completion
Kirkby’s long-awaited town centre redevelopment is nearing completion as Morrisons begins fitting out the town’s new supermarket.
With the new KFC set to open shortly and construction work on the rest of the shops almost finished, the LDRS was invited on a tour of the development that Knowsley Council hopes will help make Kirkby “unrecognisable”.
While the site is still filled with contractors, diggers and trucks, the progress compared to when the council took over the project 18 months ago is clear.
The enormous hangar-like building that will become Morrisons has recently been taken over by the supermarket’s own team who will soon begin converting the empty structure into an actual store – ending the town’s 40-year wait for a supermarket.
Next door, the unit that will house a new Home Bargains – four times larger than the current one in St Chad’s Parade – is also almost ready for handing over to its new tenants, as are the future Taco Bell and petrol station by County Road.
Meanwhile, at the edge of Hall Lane, the new KFC is already covered in branding – so far the only part of the new development with any logos – and inside has menu screens, tables and all the fixtures and fittings you would expect.
Cllr Louise Harbour, deputy leader of Knowsley Council, said: “It’s going to change people’s lives.
“Within a very short space of time, you are not going to recognise the town.”
Cabinet member Tony Brennan, in charge of regeneration and economic development, pointed to the estimated 500 jobs and £15m a year the development would bring to Kirkby, adding: “It’s something that’s going to take us to the next level.”
There is an obvious sense of excitement among the councillors, even looking at what are now just empty shells but will soon become shops for the people of Kirkby.
Cllr Jayne Aston, in charge of finance, said: “We’ve had some terrible disappointments, sitting in rooms with developers showing us nice coloured maps and nothing was happening.
“We had basically had enough and decided to take our destiny in our hands.”
Even St Modwen, the previous owners of the site, appeared to have basically given up despite having planning permission for the current development, convinced that retail developments would not be profitable.
It was that frustration that led to the council buying the town centre from St Modwen in 2019, allowing work to begin almost immediately.
It was, the councillors said, a “brave” decision by the council, but one they are confident will succeed, attracting new businesses to the area and tying in with the cinema development planned for the library site.
They are also confident that the development will pay for itself through rental income to the council, although they have not said how long this will take.
But even then, it has not been without problems. Although the site has remained open throughout the pandemic, the contractors struggled getting supplies as manufacturers shut down or reduced operations.
But despite these delays, work has continued and soon residents will no longer have to travel to Huyton or Widnes for their shopping – a welcome relief after decades of disappointment.
Words: Chris McKeon, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV