The £300m Northgate Development regeneration scheme will be lodged as a planning application next month some 25 years after the idea was first mooted.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) has just released fresh images showing a new market square with a market and cinema above, a replacement Crowne Plaza hotel, the current library transformed into a restaurant hub and residential accommodation in the heart of the city centre.
A pastiche architectural style is revealed in some images combining a contemporary design with elements of Chester’s traditional black and white mock-Tudor buildings. Interestingly, there is no fresh image of the proposed anchor store after the last conceptual design raised the hackles of many Cestrians.
The last incarnation of the Northgate Development came to grinding halt in 2008 due to the global credit crunch and was later abandoned but the hope this time around is schemes like the new £37m theatre and the relocation of the bus station to Gorse Stacks will act as a catalyst to get the revised masterplan off the ground.
But there are challenges given Chancellor George Osborne is talking about the economic ‘storm clouds gathering again’ and uncertainty over the future of retailing as online shopping continues to hit the high street.
CWaC’s Labour cabinet this week gave the go-ahead for strategic director Charlie Seward to submit the plans, expected to take place in April, and enter into lease agreements with potential tenants.
But this has led one Labour backbencher Cllr Marie Nelson (Blacon) and now the Lord Mayor of Chester Cllr Hugo Deynem (Tarvin and Kelsall) to argue the scheme is being ‘rushed’ at the final hour given the consultation is still underway – including a three-day exhibition (March 17-19) at The Forum this week. Full council had voted to receive a further report before plans were submitted, something which won’t now happen.
But Cllr Brian Clarke (Winsford Wharton), cabinet member for economic development, who moved approval of the latest progress report, said: “It’s great to see things moving forward for Chester and the quicker we move them forward the better.”
Deputy councillor leader Cllr Louise Gittins (Little Neston and Burton) said the project had been discussed since 1991.
She said: “We are at very exciting times for Chester. We have got the new cultural centre opening at the end of the year and within our grasp is the new Northgate Development.”
Cllr Stuart Parker (Chester Villages), Tory shadow spokesman for culture, leisure and wellbeing, who has been involved with Northgate for years both in power and opposition, welcomed the report. Speaking in front of the Labour cabinet he dismissed the notion the project was being ‘rushed’.
However, his Tory colleague Cllr Deynem, the Lord Mayor of Chester, supported Labour critic Cllr Nelson when he tweeted: “This isn’t the first time the #CWaC administration have begun takings decisions before a consultation finishes!!!”
He added: “#Lab Cllr rightly criticises #CWaC Administration over Northgate decisions.”
In a reversal, the city library won’t now be redeveloped as an early stand-alone scheme ready for October 2017.
The library facility is to be relocated within the new cultural centre which posed a headache for council planners worried about leaving the library building empty and boarded up next to the new world class arts facility for up to three years.
The plan is to carry out a £2m refit of the building and attract two restaurant occupants who would help with costs and create a complementary and vibrant offer, but now the council claims ‘no programme or cost benefit in accelerating the planning application’.