Contemporary shop frontages with frameless windows and sliding doors could be the future of Chester’s Rows. PAUL MANNION reports.
REGENERATION experts BDP, who masterminded the Liverpool ONE development and gave Wimbledon an ace makeover, have been appointed to create a strategy to save the Rows.
Analysing opportunities and threats, strengths and weaknesses, the management plan – commissioned by Chester Renaissance – will be presented to Cheshire West and Chester Council in about four weeks’ time.
Chief executive of Chester Renaissance Rita Waters said: “We want to come up with something that is everybody’s collective responsibility, working together with leasing agents, landlords and businesses to make the Rows a better, cleaner, safer and more vibrant place.
“People have said we have had reports made in the past and the council haven’t done anything, but the council do not own or have the authority or responsibility for the Rows.
“The strategy is saying this is what we all should be doing to help.
“We will then take the final report and present it to the authority.
“People realise we are in difficult economic circumstances and we have to maximise every opportunity out there.
“We know there are issues on the Rows, the state of the empty shops and the way they have been left.
“We are trying to work with the owners but it is proving very difficult.
“The businesses need to be as vocal to these people as they are with us, we are limited on what we can do.
“Everything now is going in our favour, bringing together resources and finances and a bigger authority.
“It’s a real time of renaissance for the city and the authority. I think it’s a chance for a fresh start.”
The report calls for more consistency on the Rows with high quality, contemporary shop frontages, ‘completely contained units’ using a ‘frameless glazing system’ and ‘bespoke sliding doors’, bringing the historic architecture of the buildings to the foreground.
Other opportunities earmarked include specialist markets at street level, creating a shopping centre identity, and bringing traders together into a management partnership with agreed objectives and policies.
Rita Waters explained: “There have been massive achievements in the city but regeneration takes a lot of time and people have to be sympathetic with what’s there now,”
“We have just installed footfall cameras so we are able to compare ourselves with other towns and cities. They are tremendously useful.
“In January 2009 the figure for retail vacancies in Chester was at 10.7%, lower than the national average of 12-14% and some cities are seeing as much as 25%. We also know more companies are in talks to take on empty buildings.
“Hotel occupancy has been at 90% in the last 12 Saturdays with weekend visitors and people on holidays coming into the city.”
The masterplan – funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and English Heritage – pinpoints the Rows major weaknesses as ‘pockets of blank facades, poor environment and anti-social behaviour’, ‘complex ownership patterns’ and ‘a number of vacant units and poor take up’.