Creating a European ‘al fresco’ atmosphere is one aim of a transport vision backed by leading councillors.
Pedestrianising Northgate Street, St Werburgh Street and Hunter Street, is key to the city’city's ambition of becoming a world-class visitor destination, according to Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for Culture and Economy.
He told Cheshire West and Chester Council executive: “If you travel around Europe you will always find large public realm spaces where transport is shifted around them so they become al fresco meeting places.
“As Chester looks to become an international destination, this is an aspiration we have for the area around Northgate Street. We want to make the cultural quarter of the new theatre, library and cinema accessible, bringing the area of the Town Hall and the cathedral into one big public realm area.”
Councillor Parker was speaking during a debate on a new Chester Transport Strategy which features a raft of proposals designed to support the city’s future growth and prosperity.
Following a lengthy debate, which heard from several visiting members, the executive voted unanimously to adopt the strategy.
Flagship proposals include:
- A new bus interchange at Gorse Stacks integrated with the railway station and new business quarter with a shuttle bus serving other parts of the city centre
- A shared-space environment on Little St John Street to improve pedestrian links between the city centre and the amphitheatre; Roman Gardens; St John’s Church and The Groves
- Development of a full business case and detailed design for a fifth Park & Ride site at Hoole
- Investigating the feasibility of providing a dedicated pedestrian and cycle bridge next to Hoole Road bridge
- Examining the case for the proposed Chester Western Relief Road including consideration of alternative routes
- A proposal to explore the possibility of providing parking for rail passengers on the site of the former Chester Enterprise Centre was a late addition to the strategy.
There are also plans to work with partners to identify and make the case for new railway stations to enhance opportunities to increase levels of rail commuting in to the city including potential locations at Newton-by-Tattenhall and a site on the Chester-Wrexham line.
Labour’s Cllr David Robinson, shadow portfolio holder for Environment, welcomed the study but was unhappy with the authority’s approach to bus transport including moving the bus exchange from the heart of the city to Gorse Stacks.
He said: ““I don’t think we have given enough attention to buses. In my view the new bus interchange has been put on Gorse Stacks not primarily for bus users, but because space is required for the Northgate development. It is vital that we have strong bus connections to the Town Hall area of our city.
“And the suggestion that rural buses will stop at the Park and Ride and people will decant on to another vehicle is bizarre, quite frankly.”
Cllr Robinson questioned why a feasibility study produced in 2009 for a footbridge at Hoole Bridge had not been acted on already.
Cllr Herbert Manley, executive member for growth and innovation, said the strategy aimed to make sure Chester “remains a vibrant city in years to come”.
He added: “Here we are looking at the way we can get people into the city, perhaps not using cars but by other methods. We do need to think about how we are going to maintain our retail and other trades within the city centre and also think about the nighttime economy as well.”