Councillors have given the green light for work to begin on Chester’s Northgate development.
The £60 million first phase – including a new market hall, Picturehouse cinema, public square, an arcade in the former library and 788-space car park to replace the market car park – was given unanimous approval by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee on Tuesday.
It clears the way for work to begin on the long-awaited regeneration scheme in January 2020.
Cllr Samantha Dixon, Labour CWAC member for Chester City and Garden Quarter, told the committee: “Because of its long history, there is cynicism from a very small number of dissenters, which has a corrosive effect on confidence and which serves our borough ill.
“But I know that at every single step of the journey there has been extensive local consultation. Over the years, thousands of people have given the views on the scheme to the council, and indeed they continue to do so and will continue to do so over the coming years.
“Now is the time for action – now, more than ever, Chester needs us to get on with it.”
The decision is just the latest step in the long battle for regeneration in Chester city centre – with the former Chester City Council first devising the Northgate scheme in partnership with ING in 2000.
That scheme was dropped eight years later following the recession, before CWAC revived it in 2012, and the latest iteration of the plans were submitted in June to reflect the current retail climate.
Cllr Stuart Parker, Conservative CWAC member for Christleton and Huntington, said: “Our city centre is in great need of investment and change if we are to respond and adapt to the retail revolution taking place on our high streets.
“Chester can no longer afford to rest on its laurels, and therefore the development of Northgate is the heart of our ambition to make sure that Chester remains a must-see destination.”
The most recent proposals included a more simplified design to fit in with the scheme’s surroundings along with green ‘living walls’, while CWAC says there is already interest from community groups in using the public square.
But there were objections to the development, with Peter Carrington, of Chester Archaeological Society, labelling the deigns as ‘little more than a standard retail park offer’.
And while welcoming the redevelopment plans, Cllr Matt Bryan, Labour member for Upton, questioned why the scheme was only set to be rated as ‘very good’ in the BREEAM sustainability guide – rather than ‘excellent’ which CWAC ‘would expect of every other applicant’.
He added: “We are building a development for the future – so let’s get it right now.”
But officers told the committee that it would be difficult to give the project the highest sustainability rating because project work had already begun, while the car park could provide more than the 39 electric vehicle charging points that are proposed for it if there is the demand in future.
Opening the debate, Cllr Charles Fifield, Conservative, said: “The scheme is certainly not perfect, but I think if we try and aim for perfection it will never get done.”
The next stage will be the formal appointment of the building contractor, with Vinci already selected as the preferred contractor as part of a detailed selection process earlier in the year.
Stephen Topping – Democracy Reporter (more here).