Cheshire Oaks designer outlet is gearing up for its £23m 21st birthday makeover.
Designs for the modernisation and upgrading of the hugely popular retail haven, which attracts eight million visitors a year, had unanimous approval from borough planners last year.
A possible tussle between operator McArthurGlen and agents for the £300m Northgate development in Chester city centre, which objected, dissolved.
Completion of the project will see shoppers able to take advantage of even more stores, brands and eateries, a new 300-bay decked car park and a replacement visitor centre.
There will also be a futuristic children’s play area for younger visitors and a long-awaited footbridge providing a direct link between the complex and nearby Thornton Road, said to have been a long held aspiration for residents particularly for those who work in the village.
Councillors heard the council’s own retail consultants believed that Cheshire Oaks would have little effect on Northgate due to differences between the two schemes, with Northgate including a cinema and department store while Cheshire Oaks would see new small units directly linked to the existing outlets.
Bob May, a director at planning consultancy Turley, for Cheshire Oaks, said the village was identified as ‘a significant visitor destination for retail and leisure’ in the council’s own local plan.
He commented: “It is a major employer and attracts a considerable number of long distance and international visitors annually. Tour operators brought around 72,600 tourists to the centre during 2016 in 1,450 coaches.
“The upgrading of facilities is aimed at ensuring the expectations of those customers continues to be exceeded. To achieve this customer services facilities are to be doubled in size, new toilets added, play equipment enhanced and new car parking facilities provided.
“There is an associated modest increase in retail space, distributed throughout the centre, required to improve existing retail facilities and ensure that the centre remains attractive to visitors from further afield.”
This will include completing the mall between Burberry and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Mr May argued: “The designer outlet and Chester city centre have been complimentary developments for 21 years, with one enhancing the other.
“Our extensive consultation we have carried out on the proposals has shown there is widespread support for this development and the economic benefits it will bring.”
The outlet village would also promote local and regional attractions to people visiting Cheshire Oaks to further benefit the local economy.
Ellesmere Port Town ward councillor Lynn Clare (Lab) urged the committee to give the plans the green light.
“Its long-term success is crucial to our future,” she said. “In all honesty, I cannot find anything worthy to refuse its passage.” She also commented: “This applicant has done everything right in terms of consultation. They have engaged extensively and listened to the community.”
The project is due to create about 330 jobs of which 200 could be filled from within the town, it is suggested.
There is the possibility of a £12.3m boost to the North West economy, of which more than £8m would be local to the borough, more than £5.5m payable through wages to new staff employed and the prospect of the council seeing £1.1m a year in increased business rates after 2020.
New retail space will occupy about 2,700sq m while new food and drink outlets and an extension to McDonald’s will take up just under 1,000sq m of space.
Chairman of the powerful Ellesmere Port Development Board Chris Farrow wrote in to confirm the board’s support.
The board described the designer outlet as ‘a significant employer within the area’ and suggested the application would ‘help maximise increases in overseas visitors with ever increasing links to international travel in/out of Manchester Airport’.
No objections were raised to traffic aspects by Highways England, by the borough’s own traffic specialists, subject to conditions or by Cheshire police traffic management.
Overall, taking account of the decked car park, there will be just over 200 additional parking spaces in the outlet village, which at present provides for 3,000 cars, due to the loss of existing bays as a result of the development.
The centre has explained it has a standard traffic management plan for weekends and school holidays covering internal roads and car parks. There is also a peak traffic plan which in 2017/18 is running on approaching 40 days, mainly between early October and early January but including bank holiday weekends and school holidays.
This has been evolved in partnership with the police, the borough council, Highways England, the Coliseum retail and leisure parks, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and bus operator Stagecoach.