Government approval means work can begin to save Wirral waterfront landmark

Craig Blackwell, left, and Mick Howarth

Work has started to save and restore one of Wirral’s architectural gems following a decision by the Secretary of State for Transport to approve the rerouting and improvement of a public footpath.

The campaign to save the historic Andrew Gibson House, part of the Mariner’s Park Estate on the Wallasey Waterfront, was supported by local politicians, heritage campaigners and a public petition with more than 6,000 signatures.

It appeared the battle had been won when plans by local developer Prospect Capital and backed by former owners the Nautilus Welfare Fund – a local registered charity serving necessitous seafarers and their dependants – to convert the former home for the widows of retired seafarers into apartments were unanimously backed by Wirral Council’s planning committee in 2018.

However, work was stalled due to legal delays processing an application to reroute the footpath running across the development site.

Craig Blackwell from development company, Prospect Capital said: “This is a massive relief and great news that we are now able to start work on the restoration of Andrew Gibson House and the wider redevelopment of the site.

“Work was due to start at the end of last year, but we were unable to begin until the footpath issue was resolved, and we had certainty that the development would be able to go ahead. Everyone has worked really hard to save the building, so we want to get on with the project as quickly as possible and safeguard the future of a much-loved landmark.”

The project included a fully DDA-compliant new path with an additional public footway linking Blenheim Road directly to Egremont Promenade, but the application to reroute the public footpath from Maddock Road to Blenheim Road was opposed by two residents.

The initial application process was aborted due to the COVID-19 lockdown, with the new application finally approved earlier this month.

The decision was welcomed by the seafarers’ charity, the Nautilus Welfare Fund, the former owners of the site, who will be providing a new purpose-built apartment scheme as part of the wider Gibson Park development.

Mick Howarth, welfare service manager for Nautilus, said: “There is huge affection for the building locally in recognition of its iconic and historical significance.

“From the outset we have been keen to ensure the building’s future and work with partners to achieve that objective. We were delighted to work with Prospect Capital and Wirral Council on an imaginative and sensitive scheme that saves the building and provides much needed new accommodation and investment in the area.”

Olu Tunde, secretary of the Nautilus Welfare Fund, said: “There have been a number of false dawns over the years, as this is a challenging building requiring an imaginative solution with enabling development.

“We are delighted that this deliverable and attractive scheme can now go ahead. Part of the wider use of the site will be a new, and much needed, 26-place apartment scheme which will meet the growing demand from those that the charity seeks to support.”

Wirral Council has played a key role working with Prospect Capital and Nautilus to facilitate the project, by providing additional land to accommodate some of the enabling new development. Local councillors, including Council Leader Janette Williamson, also played an active role in the campaign to save Andrew Gibson House.

Cllr Julie McManus, chair of Wirral Council’s housing committee, said: “This is a huge step forward for Andrew Gibson House and a key moment in the protection of one of the jewels in the crown for the borough. This development, in a landmark warterfront location, will, hopefully now see this site become a desirable and popular place to live. Thanks to all those involved who have worked together to bring this fantastic building back into use.”

Cllr Janette Williamson, said: “Andrew Gibson House has a unique place in our local maritime history and I’m sure many in the local community will welcome the move to bring this site back into use and protect such an historic building.”

Concerns were raised that the delay to restoration work caused by the footpath determination process might lead to a further deterioration in the structural condition of Andrew Gibson House.

Local MP Angela Eagle, and influential conservation organisation Save Britain’s Heritage, were amongst those who lobbied the Secretary of State for Transport to approve the application to divert the path and allow restoration work to start.

Jonathan Brown, from Save Britain’s Heritage, said: “Andrew Gibson House is an exceptionally impressive monument to Liverpool’s seafaring tradition, built to care for the widows of sailors, and funded by a generous combination of philanthropy and union members’ voluntary subscriptions.

“Buildings of this quality and grandeur are increasingly rare, especially those that were designed deliberately for the benefit of women, and it is well worthy of being listed.”

The first phase of work will see the restoration of Andrew Gibson House and four detached new homes on land adjacent to the main building.

The subsequent phases, including the new accommodation block for Nautilus, will commence following the completion of the restoration.