Another milestone has been reached in delivering the £300m Northgate Development after the council agreed to seek ministerial permission to move Chester market and issue orders to buy up private land in the regeneration area.
Northgate aspires to put Chester back on the map as one of the UK’s leading shopping destinations by delivering around 500,000 sq ft of new shops, restaurant and leisure facilities over two phases of construction.
The Cheshire West and Chester Council scheme, which now has planning consent but requires a financial investor to get off the ground, would include:
■ A big-name department store to anchor a project featuring large and small shops
■ New market hall
■ Multi-screen cinema
■ Replacement Crowne Plaza hotel with conference facilities
■ Parking for around 800 cars
CWaC owns 85% of the redevelopment area but will now use Compulsory Purchase Orders, where agreement cannot be reached, to buy up private land required for the Northgate scheme.
In addition, an application will be made for ministerial approval to relocate the market from The Forum shopping centre – which will be demolished – into a brand new building within a new Market Square to the rear of the current library. There has been a market in Chester since at least the year 1139.
In both cases there may be challenges meaning a public inquiry is likely where a planning inspector will hear the case for the council and objectors.
The Northgate project has been around in various guises since 1991 with the last incarnation foundering due to the 2008 credit crunch. And in 2005 there were 87 objectors to what was then a city council-backed scheme including from counterparts at Cheshire County Council worried about the impact on the library and three office buildings.
There were also objectors from hot dog man Geoff Mesney who was worried about losing his pitch in Town Hall Square and market traders concerned about not being guaranteed a place in the new market hall. The United Services Club in Crook Street withdrew its objection after agreement was reached on a relocation to Northgate Street which never happened.
Fishmonger Steve Cartridge is among market traders who welcomes the move into a new market hall, scheduled for 2019.
He said: “Markets welcome people of all ages. We are passionate about the products we sell and I’m looking forward to seeing my existing customers and welcoming the many new visitors when the market is complete.”
By law, relocation of the market must be to a no less convenient and spacious premises and while the current footprint of the market is bigger than the proposed premises, CWaC insists useable space in the new building is ‘no less spacious for retailers and customers’ due to improved layout.
Market traders are working with the developer to design the new hall around their current and future needs.
Naq Vu, originally from Vietnam, has run a nail bar in the market for three years having been in the business 16 years.
She said: “I originally had a shop in Wigan but after visiting Chester decided this was where I wanted to be. There are so many businesses under one roof and so many friendly faces.”
Indicators show Chester city centre has plummeted in the UK top 100 retail centres from 27th in 2006 to 66th in 2014.
Chester has come under increasing pressure from competition from rival centres and out of town locations, including Cheshire Oaks and the Greyhound Retail Park, which has expanded and changed in nature.
City centre vacancy rates are ‘above the national average’ but low in the larger size units.
Northgate is seen as an opportunity to provide units suitable for modern retail requirements and a development ‘of a sufficient critical mass’ to redress the decline in the shopping offer.
Chester city centre continues to lose comparison retailers due to not being able to offer the necessary size and unit configuration sought by retailers.
Growth potential is there because the city has a strong catchment population dominated by wealth achievers (37%), but has a lower premium retail offer than similar visitor centres such as Bath, York and Exeter.
The city centre is also lacking ‘a modern well-configured’ department store, say the council’s retail advisers.