CHESTER MP Christine Russell says the city council should consider dumping the finance company behind the stalled £460m Northgate Development.
Ms Russell is not privy to the contractual obligations between the Tory-led city council and ING but says there are companies which are weathering the economic storm who want to invest in Chester now.
The Northgate Development was due to bring a House of Fraser store, new shopping streets and public amenities but construction work will not happen now until 2012 at the earliest.
Ms Russell, who leads the All-Party Retail Group in Parliament, said: “In the present climate ING might be prepared to walk away. I understand ING walked away from a development in the middle of Brighton.
“I think what the city council should be doing is getting back to the drawing board and renegotiating the whole scheme. House of Fraser has been caught up in the Icelandic bank saga. In the meantime the Gateway Theatre should be reopened.”
Ms Russell said the council should also take steps to get the former Odeon cinema back up and running.
“I think there is a real issue that the people who are in political control of the city have no real commitment to cultural venues,” she added.
“A city the size and national and international importance of Chester should at least have a theatre and a city centre cinema but what they seem to be saying is they will just board up the city for the next 10 years.”
She blamed the Conservative administration for “losing momentum” by renegotiating components of the scheme at the crucial point.
Ms Russell has called for a complete redesign of whatever takes the place of the original Northgate scheme believing elements were flawed including the proposed large bus station and the plan to create a new library.
City council deputy leader Stephen Mosley said Chester had to stick with ING because the company owned half the site earmarked for development and there was a legal agreement which, if broken, could lead to years of legal wranglings. He denied the Tories could be held responsible for the original scheme’s demise.
“It was meant to have been completed before we even took over,” he said.
On an upbeat note, he said: “We have still got £1bn new investment coming into Chester over the next few years. The Northgate scheme has been delayed but the city council and ING are still committed to it and it will be delivered in a few years.”