Knowsley: The ambitious plans set to transform and refresh the borough
Knowsley is in the midst of a dramatic transformation as bold plans to refresh its leisure, culture and housing offer begin to take shape.
With projects including town centre masterplans and Prescot’s Shakespeare North theatre promising to usher in a new era for the borough, Your Move asks what its current housing needs are and explores the implications of its resurgence on the wider city region.
Words by Mark Langshaw
Boasting 28 parks, award-winning visitor attractions and strong transport links, Knowsley has always had plenty to offer but the borough has suffered from an image problem in recent decades.
Despite offering more green space than any other part of the Liverpool City Region, the destination has struggled to retain residents seeking high quality family homes, with many Knowsley natives moving elsewhere when the time comes to upgrade their abode.
But there are signs this is beginning to change and the borough-wide regeneration initiatives which are in motion aim to banish preconceptions about the location’s housing stock entirely.
Ambitious masterplans are in place to rejuvenate Huyton, Kirkby and Prescot town centres with new retail and leisure facilities, while the latter is also set to gain the proposed Shakespeare North Playhouse – a £28 million theatre tipped to act as a catalyst for further regeneration projects.
Complementing the new retail and leisure offer, Knowsley’s housing supply is undergoing a serious refresh with planned ventures like the government-backed ‘Garden Village’ in Halsnead, an ambitious attempt to create a community with 1,600 new homes and green space from scratch.
“Rather than looking inwards as we have done since the 1970s, it’s now time to look outwards and become more self-aware and self-conscious about how people see us,” Edward Perry, chair of Knowsley’s place board, tells Your Move.
“We’re now able to present a very different image of Knowsley with the Shakespeare theatre and town centre masterplans in the pipeline, and this vision is coming together, project by project.”
Among the core objectives of Knowsley’s ongoing transformation is to increase the number of high quality homes in the borough and bring balance to its housing stock, 77% of which currently falls into the affordable bracket of council tax bands A and B.
The idea is to retain the residents the borough would normally lose while drawing in househunters from elsewhere with the promise of first class accommodation and local amenities.
According to Knowsley Council’s executive director of place, John Flaherty, new and upcoming schemes from leading housebuilders such as Redrow and the local authority’s housing partner Countryside are achieving this goal.
“The quality of the homes we’re now delivering in Knowsley with developers including Redrow, Countryside and Bellway are helping to retain families, individuals and couples in the borough but also attract them from other areas in the North West,” he says.
“We are absolutely ambitious in Knowlsey and serious about improving the housing offer to meet the needs and ambitions of the househunters the borough will attract once the regeneration initiatives we have in the pipeline have been realised.
“In the past we were desperate for developments, but that’s no longer the case. We have huge expectations, great ambitions and the current generation of housebuyers in Knowsley share those aspirations, so it’s the developers who need to respond to that and meet the challenge it presents.”
Indeed, housebuilders appear to be queueing up to develop in the borough, with Halsnead Garden Village and major schemes in Oakford and Earlesfield among those which are said to have attracted interest from Bloor Homes, Redrow, David Wilson, Storey, Stuart Milne, Taylor Wimpey, Bellway, Countryside and Roland Homes – many of which have never built in Knowsley before.
There are currently 32 housing sites under construction in the borough, but what makes Knowsley such an attractive location to developers?
According to the council’s official housing partner it’s not just the flagship regeneration projects – the destination’s existing assets are as much of a draw.
“Naturally, location is key when it comes to developing new homes,” says Peter Vella, Countryside’s regional sales and marketing director. “Knowsley’s close proximity to Liverpool and excellent motorway links are really positive factors for developing in the borough, as these are often high priorities for house hunters.
“The variety of locations we’re developing in Knowsley means there’s something for everyone and every budget – from starter homes at Highfield Green in Kirkby to luxury family residences at Harrington Place in Roby.”
“We have huge expectations, great ambitions and the current generation of housebuyers in Knowsley share those aspirations”
Knowsley’s key regeneration initiatives are steadily progressing. A masterplan for the Garden Village is expected to go before the council’s cabinet this summer and Shakespeare North was granted planning permission last year, having overcome numerous funding hurdles.
Shakespeare North alone is expected to be a game changer for the borough, drawing in new leisure businesses, permanent residents and visitors by helping Prescot capitalise on its long-standing association with the Bard, in much the same way Stratford has always done.
But it isn’t just Prescot and Knowsley which stand to benefit from projects like this. John believes the impact of the borough’s revival will be felt across the Liverpool City Region, especially now that there’s a Metro Mayor overseeing the entire area.
“Shakespeare North is not just a Prescot asset, it’s a city region asset and we can say the same about Liverpool’s Cruise Liner Terminal,” he says. “We will see people getting off at that terminal and coming to Knowsley to see Shakespearian plays.
“This is great news for the city region and the more we collaborate, the sooner we can bring forward that development and everyone can reap the rewards. The number of jobs in the city region will shoot up, the region’s GVA (Gross Value Added) will rise and so will average wages.
“Knowsley’s offer complements a rich offer across the city and the opportunity for us to collaborate across the city region has never been greater with Steve Rotheram now in office as Metro Mayor.”
Edward Perry agrees.
“The potential of a regenerated Knowsley to boost the wider city region is so important to us because it cannot be seen that the borough is merely ploughing its own furrow,” he adds.
“The council’s leadership very much sees its place within the wider city region, its governance and its future and I’m absolutely delighted about that.
“Everybody in the private sector is holding their breath to see how the Metro Mayor will bring Merseyside together, but Knowsley is passionate about playing its part in the success of the wider city region.”