The news emerged on the first day of a public inquiry at the University of Chester ’s Riverside Innovation Centre where the council is hoping to be granted Compulsory Purchase Order to buy 70 properties within the city centre regeneration area.
While it’s a positive sign that companies are potentially interested in occupying large units within the scheme, there will be critics quick to point out the same retailers already have large units in prime locations in Chester city centre – H&M and Topshop are in the Grosvenor Shopping Centre and New Look is in Eastgate Street.
In all likelihood they would vacate their existing stores with the risk empty units may be left behind.
A Cheshire West and Chester Council spokesperson, said: “We can confirm that it is in advance stages of negotiations with numerous national retailers and restaurateurs for Chester Northgate. At this time we are not in a position to comment on specific negotiations.”
Plans for Northgate also include a House of Fraser store raising questions about the potential impact on Chester’s premier department store Debenhams, known as Browns of Chester. However, Debenhams this week confirmed there were no plans to leave Chester at the moment.
A spokesperson said: “We have no announcements to make on any store closures in our estate.”
CWaC has already addressed serious concerns existing Chester-based retailers may want to relocate into Northgate, leaving empty streets in their wake. The Chester Northgate website provides reassurance potential tenants would be targeted based on attracting retailers not currently represented.
It says: “A protocol based on an agreed target tenant mix strategy will focus the scheme’s marketing campaign on retailers and other potential occupiers who do not already have a presence in Chester.
“Where retailers seek to relocate into Chester Northgate, any proposed move will need to be fully justified before a lease would be offered. For example, such a move might be justified by a retailer’s need for a considerably bigger store, which in turn would also entail a significant investment in the both the city and the creation of additional jobs.”
Although Northgate would feature new shopping streets and a new market hall, it is not solely based around retail. There would be 120 homes, cafes, restaurants, a multi screen cinema and a replacement Crowne Plaza Hotel with conference facilities plus parking for around 800 cars.
But there are no investors signed up to fund the scheme so CWaC has stepped in with £57m of council taxpayers’ money to progress the project in the hope private money will follow later down the line.