Work will start in the next few weeks on a massive 550-bed student complex in the heart of the city centre after a deal was finally struck 18-months since planning permission was granted.
The Linenhall car park development will comprise 143 studio flats and 59 shared living apartments in a joint venture between Chester Race Company, who own the former stables site, and London-based Stephenson Development (Southern) Holdings Ltd.
Planning consent was granted in December 2013 after final approval was given by then Secretary of State Eric Pickles who decided not to ‘call in’ the huge application which rises to six storeys on the ring road side, opposite the Crowne Plaza hotel.
But there had been question marks over whether it would ever get built given the length of time that had elapsed.
In a joint statement released to The Chronicle, the developers confirmed initial site preparation works will start in the next few weeks to enable main construction to commence later this year. It is expected the development will be complete for the start of the 2017 university academic year.
The agreement, signed this week between the race company and Stephenson, will initially give Stephenson a lease of the site and the two companies will work closely together to build out the scheme. On completion, the race company will retain a long-term interest in the site.
A Chester Racecourse spokesman commented: “I can confirm that the agreement between the Race Company and Stephenson was concluded today (Tuesday, August 11). Both parties are very pleased with the outcome.”
The Linenhall project is the latest in a number of student housing schemes being undertaken by Stephenson Group throughout the UK. But it won’t be to everyone’s liking.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic planning committee backed the project by seven votes to one in favour even though it proved controversial with neighbouring residents.
Their ward councillor, Samantha Dixon, who is now council leader, said when in opposition: “So, does this application help us provide a supply of housing that will meet the needs of present and future generations? No it doesn’t. This is not the accommodation that we need in Chester. We need family homes.
“It places a huge community, with a lifestyle very different, right alongside an existing community that will suffer directly as a result.”
Resident Graeme Baldry, who lives in a nearby Georgian apartment in Stanley Place, said previously: “It’s going to change the whole ambience of this area of the city. I don’t have any axe to grind against students. I just think it’s too many people living too close together. At the moment it’s a quaint area and something that makes Chester special.”
But the strategic planning meeting was told there was an existing permission for a previous scheme on a similar scale involving commercial apartments which was never built. And the planning officer said in many ways the impact of the student project would be less and a refusal decision would be difficult to defend if the applicant went to appeal.
Another issue is the demise of the popular Linenhall car park, which is free after 2pm and free all day Sundays, although CWaC recently opened a 351-space underground car park in Delamere Street.