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10 most memorable events in Chester during 2017

Our round-up of some of the most important news stories covered by The Chronicle during the past 12 months

Montage of images from the most significant events to have happened in Chester during 2017

1. STORYHOUSE

Picture by Peter Cook(Image: UGC)

A decade after the Gateway Theatre closed, Chester city centre was finally able to boast a cultural centre of world class proportions. It was a long time coming but when the £37m Storyhouse opened on Thursday, May 11, it proved to be worth the wait. The opening production of The Beggar’s Opera proved to be a huge critical success and the unique relationship between the indoor spaces and the hugely popular Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre was a triumph with shows like Alice in Wonderland and Julius Caesar being staged in both settings. Since then, there have been visits by massive touring shows such as Blood Brothers and Footloose and the venue is currently enjoying another home grown hit with the first ever stage production of Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven. And on top of this, Storyhouse provided a wonderful new home for the main library and saw the return of cinema to the city centre.

2. CHESTER BUS INTERCHANGE

It certainly hasn’t found favour with everyone but you can’t deny one of the big events to have happened in Chester during 2017 is the new bus interchange at Gorse Stacks finally coming into operation fully in June. Cheshire West and Chester Council came under heavy fire for closing the Princess Street bus exchange months before the new one opened, not least from market traders who believe the move has cost them dearly in lost revenue. The council responded with new signage and providing a shuttle bus for passengers from the new interchange to the Town Hall Square. But despite a lot of negative comments, especially about its cost, the imposing new structure seems to be slowly growing in popularity, helped by the addition of a newsagents and coffee shop.

3. FRODSHAM STREET

If there was a mixed reaction to the bus interchange, there was no such balance when it came to the reaction to a new-look Frodsham Street when it reopened in April after being closed since the previous June - everybody seemed to hate it! The street’s revamp was part of the overall £13.5m bus interchange scheme but many people were baffled by the decision to mix buses and pedestrians, declaring it an accident waiting to happen. Many of the critics also felt that just a few weeks after the reopening Frodsham Street was already looking grubby due to tyre marks from the buses on the ‘yellow brick road’. A rare positive note was struck by reader David Kirwan although few shared his view that ‘hopefully this idea will be rolled out to all the streets in the city centre’!

4. POKEMON

Picture: Steve Casey Photography

Undoubtedly one of Chester’s big success stories of 2017 was to host a world exclusive Pokemon GO event over the weekend of July 22-23. The city went Pokémon GO crazy as thousands of players descended to catch virtual monsters on their smart phones. Organisers estimated it brought £3m spending power to the city. Chester played host to Pokémon GO players, known as ‘trainers’, from Chester, the rest of the UK and around the globe including a young man who came all the way from Chile. The event was a unique tie up between Niantic Labs, the developer and publisher of the global games phenomenon Pokémon GO, The Pokémon Company International and Chester-based Big Heritage. Historic sites were turned into 120 PokéStops as part of a heritage weekend with a difference.

5. CHESTER CASTLE

Picture: David Sejrup

Chester Castle opening fully to the public for the first time in many years was somewhat overshadowed by the fact it happened the same weekend as the Pokemon GO event - even though the heritage site welcomed 11,000 during that weekend. But it was the start of a memorable summer for the historic landmark which also saw special occasions such as the Festival of British Archaeology, performances by the City of Chester Male Voice Choir and Italian Youth Orchestra and an aerial trapeze performance of Peter Pan. The Agricola Tower and castle walls are now in the care of English Heritage.

6. GENERAL ELECTION

Labour's Chris Matheson speaking after the announcement he had retained his Chester seat. Picture by Stuart Bogg Imaging(Image: Stuart Bogg Imaging)

Brexit has dominated the British political agenda throughout 2017 and it was the main motivation for Prime Minister Theresa May to call a snap General Election during the summer which backfired big time when the Tories lost their Parliamentary majority. If Chester’s Labour MP Chris Matheson went into the campaign worried that his slim 93-vote majority from 2015 left him vulnerable, he didn’t show it during what was a confident display on the election trail. And it was confidence that proved to be well justified when he turned that tiny majority into a whopping 9,176 landslide, easily beating largely unknown Tory candidate Will Gallagher. The result was partly due to the national swing towards the Labour Party but it was also down to the impressive performance Mr Matheson had put in as a constituency MP during the preceding two years.

7. BRUTUS THE CAT

Pic by Dale Miles

One of the saddest events of 2017 in the Chester area was the death of the greatly adored Brutus the Morrisons cat on January 16. Brutus earned legions of fans the world over for his charming love affair with the Morrisons store in Saltney where he could regularly be seen sitting in his beloved spot next to the doors, lapping up the attention from shoppers. His owners Claire and Adam Owens shared the heartbreaking news on his phenomenally successful Facebook page, sparking an outpouring of condolences for the much-loved moggy. The affection with which Brutus was regarded gained tangible form on September 10 when TV personality and comedian Ted Robbins unveiled a memorial bronze statue to the late lamented tabby.

8. CHESTER ZOO JOBS

(Image: Steve Rawlins )

This event has been included for one simple reason - it led to the most successful stories we published on the Chester Chronicle website in 2017. In February, we revealed the world class tourist attraction was seeking people to join both its giraffe and rhino teams. Other opportunities included joining their ‘Twilight team’ taking care of Rodrigues fruit bats and capybaras. This story alone received more than 120,000 page views and it was followed in May by a search for an elephant keeper when we asked ‘are you up to the tusk?’ and in August by the chance to become a parrot or penguin keeper!

9. FREE AFTER 3

All good things must come to an end and that is what will happen in January when the popular Free After 3 parking scheme in Chester is finally scrapped. But it is not going quietly - when Cheshire West and Chester Council announced this at the end of their parking consultation in July, there was an outcry from the public and the business community. The decision was attacked again last month when the council announced a complex series of proposals to replace the discount scheme. The local authority’s justification for the move is to deliver sufficient ‘fit for purpose’ parking facilities across the borough to support residents and businesses, reduce congestion and improve air quality.

10. MERSEY GATEWAY

It may not be strictly speaking Chester but there have been few issues in 2017 which have provoked more anger in Cheshire than the opening of the Mersey Gateway bridge in October. Most people seemed to be aware of the fact they would have to pay £2 for the privilege of using the new structure - but few were expecting there to be no toll booths and that the only way you could pay the fee was by registering online. The result has been a number of stories of people being fined for not paying up within just 24 hours - all of which led to a heated debate in Westminster in December when many local MPs called for a review of the situation and even a scrapping of the tolls altogether.

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