The Northgate Development has cleared another major hurdle after Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee unanimously backed proposals for the £300m retail-led city centre regeneration scheme.
Chester Northgate aims to deliver around 500,000 sq ft of new shops, restaurant and leisure facilities over two phases of construction.
Backed by the local authority, it is hoped details of the investment strategy, to ensure the scheme as a whole has financial backing, will go before full council at the end of the year.
Northgate aspires to put Chester back on the map as one of the UK’s leading shopping destinations as well as creating 1,000 new jobs.
The project has been around in various guises since 1991 with the last incarnation foundering due to the 2008 credit crunch.
However, in spite of the unanimity of support at the council, alternatives viewpoints do exist.
Critics question whether Chester can sustain a new shopping quarter given many shops are vacant. And while the Chester One City Plan emphasises themes of localism and distinctiveness, it seems inevitable much of the Northgate scheme will be given over to chain stores that can be found elsewhere.
The latest plan would see the first phase start in autumn 2017.
Picturehouse will be the operators of a six-screen cinema providing more than 715 seats, on the upper levels of the scheme, with a ground-level foyer and café bar opening onto the new Market Square and Hunter Street.
A new market hall will replace the current Chester Market and a new, 167-bedroom, four-star hotel and conference centre will be built as a replacement for the existing Crowne Plaza hotel.
The development of restaurants within the existing Chester Library building on Northgate Street will be brought forward at the earliest possible stage of the development to help provide a pre-theatre dining offer for Storyhouse, the city’s new cultural centre.
The existing hotel together with the Forum shopping centre and several other buildings will then be demolished in 2019, so that work can begin on the second phase of construction to create the main retail offer and department store, with the identity of the operator as yet unknown.
Cllr Brian Clarke , cabinet member, economic development and infrastructure, said: “The development of Northgate has been a long held ambition.
“When it became clear that the private sector was not going to deliver what the city needed, the council took control with the view to progressing proposals to a stage where the private sector is willing to invest. Obtaining planning consent is a major component.
“This proposal delivers a new development that will feel like Chester and not just like any other city.”
Cllr Stuart Parker , shadow cabinet member, communities and wellbeing added: “Northgate is the most significant regeneration opportunity to impact on Chester in many decades.
“It will transform the city from its present state of retail and leisure decline. Granting consent today will send a powerful message that Chester is open for business in a truly spectacular style.”
In December 2013 the council purchased the Forum Shopping Centre and now owns around 85 per cent of the 5.8-hectare site.
Rivington Land are the development managers overseeing the development.
David Lewis, chief executive of Rivington Land, said: “Obtaining this resolution to grant planning consent for Chester Northgate is a massive achievement on the path to delivery of this significant scheme.
“In combination with the level of occupier demand we are witnessing and the recent exchange of contacts with Picturehouse, this consent represents real progress and a major corner piece of the overall jigsaw.
“The application on such a sensitive site was very complex and this decision is a huge compliment to the talented design team involved.”
It is anticipated that the whole development will be completed and opened during 2021.
Further details of the proposed scheme can be found by visiting the website .