There are signs construction may be about to begin on a delayed city centre student housing scheme after a brick wall appeared on the site.
Planning consent for the huge Linenhall complex, opposite the Crowne Plaza, was granted more than three years ago in a joint venture between Chester Race Company, who own the former stables site and London-based Stephenson Group.
But work has never started despite archaeological investigations and a false start when the car park site closed temporarily.
The appearance of the brick wall does not actually represent the start of construction.
Race company spokesman Chris Clayton explained that it was to comply with a planning condition that states no development shall take place until samples of materials, including sample panels, have been submitted and approved in writing by the planning authority.
More significantly, an amendment has just been approved for alterations to the elevation and internal space of the complex to reduce the number of bedrooms from 549 to 544.
And race company chief executive Richard Thomas recently confirmed to The Chronicle that the delayed scheme would still happen despite the number of competing student complexes already built or nearing completion.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic planning committee backed the original plan by seven votes to one in favour even though it proved controversial with neighbouring residents. Final approval was given by then Secretary of State Eric Pickles who decided not to ‘call in’ the controversial application which rises to six storeys on the ring road side.
Ward councillor Samantha Dixon , who is now council leader, said when in opposition: “So, does this application help us provide a supply of housing that will meet the needs of present and future generations? No it doesn’t. This is not the accommodation that we need in Chester. We need family homes.
“It places a huge community, with a lifestyle very different, right alongside an existing community that will suffer directly as a result.”
Another issue is the disappearance of the popular Linenhall car park although the Northgate Development will include parking for 800 cars.
But the strategic planning meeting was told there was an existing permission for a previous scheme on a similar scale involving commercial apartments which was never built. And the planning officer said in many ways the impact of the student project would be less and a refusal decision would be difficult to defend if the applicant went to appeal.
A commercial agreement was signed between the race company and the Stephenson Group back in August 2015.
And it had been expected work would begin in late 2015 with the development ready for the start of the 2017 university academic year.