In the second part of our interview, Cheshire West and Chester Council Leader Mike Jones talks to DAVID NORBURY about his plans for Chester
PLANS for the regeneration of Chester are moving forward ‘very quickly’ under Chester Renaissance, says borough leader Cllr Mike Jones (Con, Broxton).
He discloses the name of the initiative was changed ‘because it was about buildings and projects and not about people and what was right for the city’.
“What we are looking at is creating a vision for Chester.
“We are working with Chester Renaissance on this, they are doing the work.
“Part of it is what do people come to Chester for?
“Do they come because it is a beautiful place, do they come because of its history, do they come because it has great retailers or is it for some other reason, for example the river frontage?
“Nobody can really tell you that. They all have an opinion but they cannot really put their finger on it and say why do people really come to Chester. What is it they value most?
“What do we need to do to get more people into Chester to make it a much more viable place?”
Cllr Jones argues: “We have had 15 years of lack of progress and living on the good times with no real investment.
“As a result of past policies, car parking charges have gone up – saying to visitors we only want you for the cash – the maintenance of our iconic buildings ceased and they are now looking very tired and decayed and there was a lack of cleanliness in the city, it’s all awful.
“I am from Chester, I love Chester, it is a fantastic city.
“It absolutely makes you want to cry at the neglect of the city.
“However, we cannot reverse 15 years of neglect in two or three years.
“We need to look at how to bring vibrancy to the city, how to get people back into the city.
“We started doing that with Free after Three car parking, the car parks are full now, people are spending money in the shops and the retailers are absolutely delighted with that.
“How we reduce the cost of car parking even more is a further challenge.
“We are looking at that, to create a car friendly city, we are not anti-car like the previous Lab/Lib Dem administrations were”.
Cllr Jones also believes facilities in the city should be improved and it should be cleaner, which would make it more welcoming.
“By doing those things we will attract people who will say this is a nice place to come to.
“There are parts of Chester where the retail offer is some of the best in the country.
“Even now, in difficult times, the income per square foot is some of the best in the country. So how do we actually build on that to make it work for all our retailers?
“I am pretty strong in my mind that as a council we should be playing a part in this and we are doing that.
“We need to improve the quality of our historical offering.
“We are working with Chester Cathedral which has financial problems and we need to help them to ensure the cathedral is around for another 500 years or 1,000 years.
“We have to invest in all our historic buildings, we have to invest in the fabric of the city.
“I am a strong believer in creating more public realm, more open space, for people to sit in and enjoy the city.
“We have some ideas like improving the river frontage along the side of the racecourse where cars actually don’t need to be at all or, if they do, they only move at 5mph.
“These would be attractive places to sit and look at some of the fantastic views we have in Chester.
“We have to look at how we can use some of our historic buildings that are not being used at the moment for the benefit of visitors and residents.
“How do we improve the arts in Chester when the Lib Dem and Labour administration closed the theatre, were offered the Odeon and refused it because they did not have the money?
“We need to make Chester a place for families and young people and if we could do that I think we start to create a very nice city that people can enjoy.”
He points out that Chester Renaissance has applied for and received a number of grants.
“We are just doing some work at the amphitheatre to start to tidy that up, which is fantastic.
“We have now allocated £300,000 to the project and this will really make a difference and tidy up the area.
“The Rose Theatre is a fantastic idea, we just have to think of the best place to put it to enable people to use it and that is exciting, we need to win the bid for this and are working very hard to do so.
“We also have feasibility study about to start for a proper conference centre/theatre and to really up Chester’s cultural offering. This is a top priority for the council”.