Event Summary

Cheshire Development Update | Place events are back in person

Photos and summary of the latest Place North West event, where 100 property professionals gathered at Chester Racecourse to discuss the area’s biggest developments, Covid’s impact and the visitor economy.

Sponsored by Chester Growth Partnership and Onward Homes, two panels of experts came together to talk about rising interest in residential and industrial schemes in the county. Also on the conversation docket: affordable housing and ways to help speed up the planning process. The event was chaired by Place publisher Paul Unger.

Scroll down to see a gallery of the event, as well as links to the slides featured in presentations.

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Peter Carstensen, chairman of Chester Growth Partnership, highlighted three major schemes in the city

Chester Growth Partnership presentation

Chester Northgate is not a retail-driven scheme.

That was the main message Peter Carstensen, chairman of Chester Growth Partnership, wanted to get across at the Cheshire Development Update. Carstensen reiterated that the £320m Northgate project is a leisure destination scheme, not another shopping centre.

With that business done, he set about giving attendees a brief history of the Chester Growth Partnership and its mission to help Chester grow. He also explained that the city was 10 years into its 15-year regeneration plan.

Then, Carstensen highlighted three development projects: Northgate, Chester Station Gateway and City Place.

Chester Northgate will open in summer 2022. Already, its Market Hall (focused on independent retailers) is 79% under offer. Nearly 70% of food and beverage spots have been pre-let, with another 12% under offer.

Chester Station Gateway will create an accessible pedestrian link from the station to the city centre, as well as provide more car parking spaces. It will offer both office space and residential offerings.

City Place will boast 500,000 sq ft of Grade A office spaces when it is complete, as well as 200 homes. It is also slated to be the new home of part of the council archives.

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From left: Max Walker-Williams, Katrina Kerr, Jayne Hennessy and James Nicholson

Panel – Chester’s development potential

  • Katrina Kerr, chair, Chester BID
  • Max Walker-Williams, founder, Walker & Williams
  • James Nicholson, managing director, Harlex Property
  • Jayne Hennessy, development manager, Peel NRE and board member, Ellesmere Port Development Board

Chester is primed to be the new tourist hot spot, according to Katrina Kerr. She praised Chester’s thriving food scene, which boasts one classic Michelin star and eight green Michelin star restaurants. Kerr also took time to celebrate its bustling event calendar this summer.

“There’s a lot of money going into promoting the city this summer to set an example of what could be achieved if we put a rocket into the visitor economy,” Kerr said.

In her mind, the city needs to focus on the visitor economy when it comes to projects, which goes beyond just buildings.

“A combination of experiential hotels and cultural events is what we need to do,” she said.

A different kind of hotel is exactly what Max Walker-Williams is offering.

“Chester does a lot of things very, very well – but the hotel offering, I believe, was lacking,” he said.

His solution: The Hotel Chester, an apartment-hotel design geared towards families, rather than stag nights and hen parties. Walker-Williams said a second hotel is already in the works and is awaiting planning approval.

Appetite for projects like his is strong, he added, noting that funding has not been an issue.

“There’s always money available for the right project at the right place with the right price,” he said. “If you’ve got the right deal, the money will always find you.”

When it comes to money, James Nicholson said that more of it needs to go to the planning system and into planners to help that process move faster.

But in the meantime, getting approval for projects like Chester Station is moving things in the right direction.

“There’s a great move now for stations to be the heart of place so that they can be the catalyst for knock-on development,” Nicholson said. That includes both residential and offices – regardless of the doomsayers who say remote working is here to stay.

“The office is not dead,” Nicholson said. “But it needs to be right for the future.”

The science lab and industrial parks aren’t dead either – especially in Cheshire, according to Jayne Hennessy.

“Ellesmere Port and Cheshire is in a fantastic place at the moment and always have been,” she said, adding that the area has got a lot going for it, including engineering heritage and high-value jobs. She especially praised Protos and Thornton Science Park as places to watch.

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Sandy Livingstone told the crowd about Onward Homes’ ambitions for Cheshire

Onward Homes presentation

Onward Homes is one of the largest housing associations in the country and is devoted to creating diverse housing types to help communities in the North West, according to executive director of property Sandy Livingstone. The company aims to build more than 500 new homes a year between now and 2030, Livingstone said. Onward Homes’ mission is to create quality homes at affordable prices to help build communities.

The company is hoping to become a strategic partner of Homes England, bidding for 3,200 houses.

Cheshire is one of the key spots Onward Homes is looking to grow in. It already owns about 1,200 houses in the county but aims to double that number over the next five years. Key schemes include the £93m Basford East development, which will build 449 homes. Also worth noting is the £41m Helsby project, which will create 215 houses. Over in Wincham, Onward Home is also part of the first phase of a larger scheme that has the potential to create 700 houses.

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From left: Sandy Livingstone, Heather Standidge, Simon Kennish and Ben Thornley

Panel – Building up Cheshire towns

  • Sandy Livingstone, executive director of property, Onward Homes
  • Heather Standidge, associate, development & strategic advisory, Cushman & Wakefield
  • Simon Kennish, property director, Bolesworth Estate
  • Ben Thornley, chartered town planner, Cassidy + Ashton

People are moving to rural areas and the result is a revitalisation of smaller town centres, according to Heather Standidge. Part of the appeal is the unique aspect of each centre, which is often dominated by independent retailers over national chains.

“It gives a sense of character and vitality,” Standidge said. “People like that.”

But town centre improvements can’t be development focused alone.

“It’s not just all about buildings,” Standidge said, echoing Katrina Kerr’s earlier remarks. “Events are key to attracting visitors and driving footfall.”

Residential cannot be forgotten either, with Standidge saying it is “absolutely critical to supporting wider economic development.”

Affordable housing is part of that.

Sandy Livingstone said that there seems to be a misperception about affordable housing – that it’s all boring and cheaply made. He emphasised that Onward Homes is not building cheap housing, it’s building quality housing.

That’s the direction Ben Thornley also sees affordable housing going.

“There are people out there that are pushing for good design, to have something that is interesting and special, that makes a space and gives people a sense of community,” Thornley said.

Bolesworth Estate is seeing similar interest in residential, according to Simon Kennish. “Resi demand is absolutely through the roof at the moment,” he said.

And along with the increase in residential has come an interest in smaller office spaces.

“People may keep a trophy office in the city centre, but actually in terms of small, flexible office space – we’ve seen there’s a real interest,” he said.

Standidge also doesn’t believe people will stop going into the city centre.

“I think there will always be the need for the city centre and clustering for certain sectors and industries,” she said. “But I think it will be a more hub and spoke model going forward.”

Livingstone agreed. He said Onward Homes is already moving in that direction, implementing a hybrid working model for its 800 staff.

“We will retain offices, but use them differently,” he said. “They’ll be used for collaboration rather than a desk. The thing we missed is a connection when you want to evolve strategy and approach. You really need people in the room for that rather than on Teams.”

The conversation then moved to the need for industrial spaces. The demand is definitely there, with Kennish remarking that Bolesworth Estate could sell its industrial spots five times over.

Thornley is in a similar situation.

“A lot of our general manufacturing clients are buying up as much space as they can get their hands on,” he said. “It’s hard to keep up with their level of ambition.”

One of the key issues is councils don’t understand the need for new industrial land, according to Thornley. “I think there is always a big struggle,” he said. “Local councillors especially would like to see former industrial sites reused for residential, but they don’t appreciate that there is a need for new industrial units out there.”

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The presentation slides can be accessed below:

Sandy Livingstone, executive director of property, Onward Homes

Peter Carstensen, chair, Chester Growth Partnership

The next Place North West event is in-person on 1 July: Meet the Authorities: Public-Private Partnerships. Digital livestream tickets are also available.

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