Liverpool City Council and Everton Football Club have announced their desire to progress a transformational regeneration opportunity for North Liverpool based at Walton Hall Park
Speaking publicly this week on the proposed plan to relocate the club to nearby Walton Hall Park, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright has claimed a new stadium in the park for Everton Football Club ‘ticks all the boxes.’
“On my journey to our home games, as I pass Walton Hall Park, I inevitably think that I am only a minute away from our beloved Goodison,” said Kenwright.
“For several years now I’ve also thought, if only it was available for our new stadium, it ticks all the boxes.”
While many an Evertonian will take Bill Kenwright’s public quotes with more than a pinch of salt, the claims of the Blues chairman concerning his long standing interest in Walton Hall Park as a possible site for a brand new home for Everton Football Club more than ring true.
In fact, back in the spring of 2003 Bill Kenwright accepted an invitation from local business man John Seddon to pay a visit to Walton Hall Park and view the prospective site of a proposed new home for Everton FC.
The site visit followed a meeting between the two men at a Liverpool city centre hotel in March 2003.
Unfortunately for Seddon, Kenwright and Everton, any hope of progressing a plan which John Seddon had initially proposed to Liverpool City Council back in 2000, came to an abrupt halt as Kenwright signed an exclusivity agreement with supermarket giants Tesco for the ill fated ‘Destination Kirkby’ project.
Undeterred, Seddon pushed on with his plan for Walton Hall Park and in 2007, after securing firm interest in a stadium project from a rival supermarket giant, Mr Seddon and Sainsbury’s held several meetings with the then leader of Liverpool City Council Warren Bradley.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo in 2008, Mr Seddon said:
“Sainsbury’s were one of the people interested in the whole concept of Walton Hall park and took a serious interest, as Tesco have in Kirkby.”
Mr Seddon also revealed Sainsbury’s had gone as far as publishing a prospective brochure on the Walton Hall Park plan and had acquired the services of Sheffield architect Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson, Manchester development consultants NHR and chartered surveyors and Manchester planning specialists Turley Associates to work on the stadium scheme.
Despite the progress made in 2008 by Seddon, Sainsbury’s and their partners, with Everton neck-deep in the now called-in Kirkby debacle and Cllr Warren Bradley’s refusal to entertain the prospect of building on park land, Sainsbury’s eventually withdrew their interest in Walton Hall Park.
“Mr Seddon came to see me about the possibility of Sainsbury’s building on Walton Hall Park,” explained Cllr Bradley in 2008.
“I am against any proposal to build on parks but we could talk about the Longmoor Lane industrial estate just at the back.
“Sainsbury’s came to the table but obviously Everton have to be there as well. But if Kirkby is refused Everton will come back to the table and, presumably, Sainsbury’s. I assume a bidding war will start then with Tesco, and if Everton came to us and said we want to discuss something the council would be happy to facilitate that.”
Meanwhile a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We are not progressing these plans at this time, but if there are opportunities that are viable for a new store we would always consider them.”
Fast forward six years and it is clear Liverpool City Council, its planning department and its leader, Mayor Joe Anderson, have put in place the mechanisms for a regeneration programme for Walton Hall Park with a new stadium for Everton Football Club as the catalyst.
And while the club itself is remaining coy, claiming the plans are in a ‘very, very early, embryonic stage,’ Mayor Anderson was this week more forthcoming on his vision for both the Walton Hall Park area and the role to be played by Everton FC:
“I am really pleased that we have identified this exciting opportunity for North Liverpool. We know that this is an area of the city that requires substantial investment and this project could bring this in a unique form,” said Anderson.
“Everton’s investment into this area would be the catalyst for a development which could make a real difference. We know from other regeneration schemes that opportunities like this can lead to significant economic and social benefits. This scheme would generate significant new job opportunities and also address important social needs such as health and education.
“We also see this as an opportunity to create an outdoor space with first-class leisure and recreational facilities that will really appeal to the local community. This is a starting point for something which could be a real game changer for this part of the city.”
Despite Everton FC’s reticence to be more forthcoming with any concrete detail, the Liverpool Echo reported both the club and the Council have been in discussions about the proposed Walton Hall Park development for more than three years.
While Everton FC chief executive Robert Elstone was particularly vague, claiming: “We are delighted to be the conduit for the council’s commitment to enhancing the outlook of the residents of North Liverpool.”
The suspicion has to be the proposed Walton Hall Park redevelopment and the prospect of a new home for Everton Football Club is further down the line than the current ‘partners’ are as yet willing to disclose.
Meanwhile, as Mayor Joe Anderson claimed a planning application could be submitted ‘within the year,’ both supporters of the club and North Liverpool residents await more detail of the scheme with baited breath.