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 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
There is cross-party support to deliver the Northgate Development with key jigsaw pieces already in place. Work on the new bus station at Gorse Stacks is well under way to replace the Princess Street bus exchange freeing up valuable space to make the scheme stack up financially.
And the Storyhouse theatre within the former Odeon – which will also host the relocated main library – opens later this year which should stimulate growth in the Northgate area with the hope it will act as a catalyst to securing the bigger project.
Phase one of Northgate, which is forecast to start in autumn 2017, will see two restaurants created within the shell of the current library building, a new market hall replacing the current Chester Market , a six-screen cinema and a new, 167-bed 4 star hotel and conference centre, as a replacement for the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The hotel, together with The Forum shopping centre and several other buildings on the site, would be demolished in 2019. Work would then begin on the second phase of construction to create the main retail offer, department store and residential.
The current Northgate scheme has been subject to public consultation since 2011 although changes were made last year with a decision to demolish the existing Crowne Plaza to make way for the new department store and to relocate the hotel a short distance away to the north to create ‘a stronger’ retail circuit.
More than 1,100 people visited two public exhibitions held in Chester in December and March leading the scheme to be tweaked in response to comments by the public and consultees.
Welcoming the lodging of the planning application, Labour council leader Samantha Dixon said: “This application marks an important milestone in the development of a scheme that will revitalise the Northgate area of the city. Northgate has the potential to mark a step change improvement in what Chester has to offer residents and visitors alike and will help create over 1000 new job opportunities”.
Tory opposition spokesperson Cllr Stuart Parker added: “I am delighted that the council is now ready to submit this major planning application which I believe can be a game changer for Chester city centre.“
David Lewis, managing director of Rivington Land, the council’s appointed development manager, said: “We are at a point where we have sufficient confidence in the commercial market prospects of the Northgate Scheme to advise the council to make this application for a major redevelopment of the city centre.”
However, concerns remain about the Northgate scheme with some worried about its knock-on effects for other parts of the city such as Foregate Street. And watchdogs bodies like Chester Civic Trust, the Chester Archaeological Society have expressed fears about the design.
Dr Peter Carrington, on behalf of Chester Archaeological Society, wrote on March 31: “The Northgate development has now been under discussion for many years and carries many hopes for a revival of Chester’s retail fortunes.
"We are therefore naturally concerned that determination to bring this long-delayed scheme to fruition could result in objections and policies that are perceived to stand in its way effectively being ignored in desperation to ‘get something done’ and in case financial backers walk away.
“In our view the result would be a development that might initially be welcomed but would soon be recognised as in parts grossly out of scale and destructive of local character.”
Once the planning application has been validated there will be a formal 16-week period of statutory consultation on the proposals leading to a decision by the planning committee in early autumn.
Further details of the proposed scheme can be found on www.chesternorthgate.com