An open letter has now been handed into Cheshire West and Chester Council signed by more than 120 business people which calls for a major rethink of the £300m Northgate Development.
There is concern at the amount of retail in the city centre regeneration project given the growing number of empty shops although Northgate would include a cinema, hotel, 25,000 sq ft of offices and 120 homes.
So far £57m of taxpayers’ money has been committed to the council-driven scheme but as yet no private sector investors have been unveiled.
Tim Kenney of Kenneymoore property consultants and Guy Butler, co-founder of property firm Glenbrook and ex-chairman of Chester Growth Partnership, want a pause in proceedings to allow a review of the project.
Their open letter, signed by 122 individuals representing 96 mainly Chester businesses, has now been handed to council leader Cllr Samantha Dixon and deputy chief executive Charlie Seward.
Mr Kenney told The Chronicle: “In our view this is commonsense. This scheme, if it had been done 10 years ago, it would have been great. We would all have been for it. The point is, it’s not deliverable, it’s not sustainable.
“If you built this, they will not come. This is not the field of dreams any more. Go and look at the Barons Quay shopping centre in Northwich – that’s what shows you what happens when you get the market wrong and you just don’t understand it – and we are using public funds.”
Mr Kenney is happy to sit down with the council leader and new chief executive Andrew Lewis so the business community and the authority can help shape the future together.
“I’m not going to chain myself to the town hall. I’m not going to be the ‘Swampy’ of the commercial property world, “ joked Mr Kenney. “I’m too old for that!”
He stressed: “This is not about banging the council. This is asking them to stop. It’s not their fault the market conditions have changed. It will be their fault if they keep blindly going on without acknowledging that and that’s the issue.”
Among the 122 signatories are Chester Business Club, Chester Grosvenor hotel, Oliver & Co Solicitors, Beresford Adams Commercial, Bolton Birch, Rickitt Partnership, Oddfellows Hotels, Barlows, Mason Owen, Delamere Forest Properties, Wild Commercial, Dandy Group, Thompson Cox Partnership, Wright Marshall, Wok & Go/Jack Burrito and Lowe & Co.
Mr Kenney said raising the issue had generated comments from the community at large who also wanted their say in the debate that was required.
“There are some good ideas out there on social media. Everybody’s got a view. And they’re all talking about more people living here, better parking, better access, better open areas, things to do – there’s not enough to do in the city centre – we are not maximising our history. Yes, we can have some retail but nothing like that proposed and moving a hotel 200 yards to rebuild another one is just bonkers.”
Cheshire West and Chester Council is to set out a ‘robust’ defence of its position in a statement due to be released this week.