THE future of the credit crunched near half billion pound Northgate Development is due to surface at a Town Hall meeting this afternoon (Thursday, January 29).

A critical motion on the development from Lib Dem leader Cllr Paul Roberts (Farndon) is on the agenda for the public part of a meeting of the Tory controlled Executive.

Councillors will then go behind closed doors to hear an update on interim measures which are proposed from development portfolio holder Cllr Stuart Parker (Con, Christleton).

The motion was raised at a meeting of the full City Council at the end of last year when Cllr Roberts, seconded by Cllr Bob Thompson (Hoole All Saints) suggested the council should be "appalled by the disastrous impact on Chester's economy of the loss of the Northgate Development."

It followed news the scheme had been put on ice until 2012 to avoid the worst effects of the global economic downturn.

The Lib Dems believe there should be "a full apology from those leading members of the current administration whose meddling in the original scheme caused the delays which meant it became caught up by the credit crunch."

They are calling for an open competition for developers to put forward new plans to regenerate the Northgate area with current developers ING eligible to apply but without preferential treatment.

The council has now confirmed ING as their preferred partner and the source of new financial backing is due to be revealed shortly.

The Lib Dem councillors also called for an "urgent investigation" into options for securing attractive performing arts facilities in the city including the viability of reopening of the Gateway Theatre.

This is being investigated by consultants whose report is also expected shortly.

The motion attracted criticism at the time from Curzon & Westminster Cllr Richard Short (Con) who described it as "a bit rich."

Referring to Cllr Roberts, he said:"One of the proposers is a leading member of the outfit which got us stitched up in this position."

He suggested the delay had been due to "constant backwarding and forwarding to squeeze in more public space."

Cllr Short, who is now culture supremo of the incoming Cheshire West and Chester Council added:"We would all like to see some performing arts facilities in Chester.

"I shall be doing everything I can to ensure we will have the opportunity for art and culture."

But he admitted he was not going to say there would be a performing arts centre.

Cllr Roberts retorted that he was "curious to know about the alleged contract allegedly signed by the previous administration."

"I would like to see the evidence," he said.

He believed it was "unfortunate" that the public had not accepted the previous administration's assertion that it was not possible for the Northgate Development to go ahead without the controversial new glass slug council offices on Gorse Stacks.

"Unconditionality would have been possible in July or August 2007," said Cllr Roberts.

"We would not have been hit by the credit crunch."

"It really is time to get away from the blame game," suggested Labour leader Cllr John Price (Blacon Hall).

"Clearly the credit crunch has prevented ING from delivering the kind of scheme we wanted."

He added:"Somebody did something which delayed it."

Tattenhall City Cllr Mike Jones (Con), who has held the development portfolio at the town hall, commented:"This scheme has gone on and on, it has changed and it has failed."

The project was due to start in 2003, he argued and that had been affected by indecision by the opposition parties.

"Everything was lined up for November 2007," he said.

"We cannot leave things as they are until 2012," insisted Cllr Thompson.

"Our competitors will not stand still.

"New plans need to be made and all parties must work together with immediate effect for the benefit of Chester.

"We must put politics to one side because Chester is too important."

The motion is due to be debated at a meeting of the Executive at 4.30pm.

The ING group has recently revealed it is to sack 7,000 staff and change its chief executive.