‘Develop or decline’ – that is the clear message before councillors considering the future of Chester at a special meeting of the full council next Tuesday (September 10).
Members will be asked to give full backing for the ‘overwhelming’ case for the delivery of the £300m Northgate Scheme to arrest the decline in retail expenditure in the historic city.
And in part two, the council will be asked to approve the procurement of a development and design team and the finance to get concept plans for the retail and leisure destination to planning application stage by spring 2015.
A report before members from CACI – the London-based specialist consumer and retail research company – warns that the city is losing ground as a retail centre.
With an expected 7.3% share of a £4,113m expenditure market, it falls into third place behind Liverpool city centre (11.5%) and Cheshire Oaks (8%), in a catchment area of two million people.
And Chester’s recent performance in terms of cash spent per head of the population has declined significantly from 27th out of 4,000 retail centres in 2006 to 59th in 2012.
But a joint report from the directors of resources and growth and prosperity stresses that while the UK continues to experience difficult property market conditions, around one million square feet of leisure schemes with predominantly cinema, food and beverage content are under consideration.
And Chester, with a significantly higher proportion of wealthy achievers within its catchment than anywhere else in the North West, plus its wider appeal as a visitor destination, is the type of ‘blue chip’ regional centre still attracting the attention of the developers.
“The inescapable message is that we must develop or run the risk of the further decline of Chester as a retail centre,” said Cllr Herbert Manley, executive member for growth and innovation.
“Not only that but we must provide the right kind and blend of accommodation to attract prime retailers that will want to be part of a quality regional centre, together with the culture offer that will persuade our visitors to stay longer.”
The Northgate Development Concept scheme will include a new leisure square next to the new theatre and library complex, a replacement market and an eight-screen cinema, complementing the 120-seat cinema included in the theatre.
The scheme also includes 375,240 sq ft of retail floor space – including an anchor department store – 51 standard unit stores; two kiosks and five major store units; a small food store of 6,555 sq ft and 79,233 sq ft of food and beverage units.
Parking is proposed both underground and in a multi-storey car park. The total number of spaces is 954, which include replacement, new and upgraded parking spaces.
A new bus facility is proposed at Gorse Stacks within the transport strategy and this will be subject to public consultation.
However the Northgate scheme does include direct public transport access into the site with three bus lay-bys for dropping off/picking up adjacent to a new market hall.
CACI report that ‘doing nothing’ would result in a further decrease of £11.6m (4%) of cash spent in Chester per head of its catchment population.
Developing only phase 1 of the concept scheme – the market, cinema, food and beverage outlets and multi-storey car parks – would still not arrest a 3% decline expenditure potential.
But completion of the comprehensive scheme in which the whole of the comparison retail offer is delivered in the second phase, significantly increases the cash spent per head of the population by 27% – a rise of £299 million to £381.9m, increasing Chester’s market share by approximately 13%.
“The overriding message is that residential retail expenditure in Chester city centre will continue to decline without a retail-led development with sufficient critical mass, given strong competition across the North West region from both in town and out of town centres,” says the report.
“This is demonstrated by Chester’s current position in terms of the available residential retail expenditure in the North West in which it is ranked 5th behind Manchester, Liverpool, The Trafford Centre and Cheshire Oaks.”
If Northgate remains undelivered Chester will fall to fifth place, but if it is implemented, the city will rise to fourth in the region.