An image showing the skyline of the proposed £300m Northgate Development has raised concerns among some members of a heritage watchdog.
One photograph accompanying the planning application for the retail-led scheme features a view of Chester city centre but with a red line showing what the cityscape would look like if the regeneration project gets the green light.
And The Chronicle understands some members of Chester Civic Trust, who have already raised questions about ‘a sheer wall of development’ along St Martin’s Way, say the image backs up their fears.
One anonymous member said: “Much of the roof lines now appear to be proposed at the height of the fly tower on the new theatre.
“Unfortunately this scale of development flattens out the articulation of Chester’s skyline and from several locations I am sure the new buildings will hide the town hall tower, cathedral and The Guildhall spire.”
The Civic Trust is continuing to hold discussions before lodging its official position on the scheme as part of the statutory consultation process but some suspect the basic plan is now set in stone.
Chester Archaeological Society has raised a similar point in its comments, saying: “Far from creating a ‘strong and attractive’ frontage to St Martins Way, the buildings give a defensive, ‘fortress-like’ impression.”
The long-awaited Northgate Development aims to deliver 500,000 sq ft of shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities which, if approved, will be delivered over two phases of construction.
It aims to put Chester back on the map as one of the UK’s leading shopping destinations as well as creating 1,000 new jobs.
The project, which is being promoted by Cheshire West and Chester Council, has been around in various guises since 1991 with the last incarnation foundering due to the 2008 credit crunch.
This latest scheme, which will require a financial investor to get off the ground, would include:
■ A big-name department store to anchor a project featuring large and small shops
■ Multi-screen cinema
■ New market hall
■ Replacement Crowne Plaza hotel with conference facilities
■ Parking for around 800 cars
Members of the public and organisations are now starting to lodge comments on the council website.
Mrs Rachel Barnes, of Watergate Street, Chester, said: “This is a wonderful and much needed redevelopment of a very disjointed, ramshackle part of Chester. It will give Chester the boost it needs to compete with neighbouring areas when locally. There is great concern that Chester has been deteriorating into a run-down student town.
“I only question whether it is wise for the student development on the Linenhall car park to go ahead opposite a high end development such as is planned.”
Mrs Jo Jenkins, of St James Avenue, Upton, argued the scheme should include a centre for the visual arts to provide a unique offer especially because of a concern the large number of retail units in themselves ‘will not viable because of the increase in online shopping and the decline of city shopping’.
She said: “Chester is woefully short of gallery space and this could surely complement the new cultural centre and be of interest to the type of visitors to our city on a cultural basis.”
Trevor Jenkins, of Chester Cycling Campaign, who lives at the same address, said his organisation ‘generally welcomes’ the proposal but with certain reservations including there being ‘no noticeable green space’
He concluded: “More people will arrive at the site on foot or by bicycle if the routes in are both direct and obvious.”
A decision on the scheme will be taken by the planning committee in early autumn following the formal 16-week period of statutory consultation.
Further details can be found on www.chesternorthgate.com