Richard Beacham CWAC p.PNW

CWAC is gearing up to open the market in November. Credit: Place North West

GALLERY | Long-awaited Chester Northgate nears completion 

More than 20 years since the redevelopment of this chunk of the city was proposed, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the £70m first phase of the regeneration project is just weeks away. 

The opening of Chester Northgate, slated for late autumn, will come as a relief to Cheshire West and Chester Council, for whom the project was a priority item on the development agenda even before the authority acquired the site in 2011. 

“Everybody who’s worked on this project has put their heart and soul into it,” said Cllr Richard Beacham, the council’s cabinet member for inclusive economy and regeneration. “It has been a long journey and a very proud journey to have played a small part in.”

Scroll down for a full gallery of Chester Northgate

The first phase of Chester Northgate, located off the street of the same name, comprises a six-screen Picturehouse cinema, 800-space multi-storey car park, six F&B units, 10,000 sq ft of offices and a 36,000 sq ft indoor market. 

Tenants already lined up include BrewDog, the Florist, Cosy Club and Zizzi with only two more units remaining. A family restaurant chain is under offer on one of them, while the other is likely to be a coffee shop. 

Picturehouse, which is owned by financially troubled Cineworld, is continuing to fit out the cinema complex despite uncertainty over its future. 

The indoor market will feature 40 stalls, a mix of produce and products, as well as a bar and indoor garden. When the facility opens, half of the traders within the existing market will make the switch to the new venue.  

Main contractor Vinci Construction started work in the summer of 2020 and has delivered the project during a period characterised by its uncertainty and volatility. 

Chester Northgate CWAC p.PNW

The scheme is located close to Storyhouse. Credit: Place North West

Cheshire West and Chester’s commercial director Graham Pink remembers the difficult decision at the very start of the pandemic on whether to plough ahead with Northgate or slam on the breaks.  

CWAC had received Vinci’s price, around £50m, and was happy to proceed. However, the uncertainty generated by Covid gave the council pause. 

“We took a deep breath, swallowed hard and signed the contract,” Pink said. 

Some critics, who had seen various proposals for the city centre site come and go, thought this latest Northgate project might suffer the same fate, and Beacham doesn’t blame them. 

“I can understand why people would think that something is not going to happen until it does. There were probably people that didn’t think that the walls would happen when people were saying let’s build some walls around the city.

“I think you have to have that in society. If you don’t have all of those different voices, you might end up doing something that you regret like building a really large retail scheme just before retail was going to go through the seismic change.”

Numerous iterations of Northgate schemes have fallen by the wayside over the years, many of which did indeed focus heavily on the provision of retail. 

After overhauling the Forum Shopping Centre in the 1990s, Scottish Widows pension fund announced its intention to build a 100,000 sq ft department store close to the site but work never started. 

Scottish Widows sold the Forum to Dutch bank ING just before 2000, with the new owners also keen to regenerate the site and its surroundings. 

ING then won planning approval for a project that would have seen the construction of a performing arts centre and 112 homes in 2005. 

Beacham was extolling the virtues of regenerating this part of the city long before he was elected as a councillor. 

He used to write and distribute a free magazine around the shops and bars of Chester and remembers writing about the impact the redevelopment of this piece of the city could have.

“I thought I was a journalist at the time, and I’ve still got the article where I talked about how exciting it would be to see this development come forward,” Beacham said.

“Then obviously it fell and never proceeded. I never possibly imagined at that time that I would end up being the cabinet member that was responsible for overseeing the project.”

Chester Northgate CWAC p.PNW

Northgate features a new multistorey car park. Credit: via Place North West

Fed up with a lack of progress, the council intervened in 2011 and bought the site for around £20m. 

Outline approval for the current scheme was granted in 2016 with designs drawn up by ACME. In late 2018, Place North West revealed that the architect would be replaced by AHR. 

Fresh proposals were revealed in March 2019, before the green light for the first phase was finally given in September, clearing the way for Vinci Construction to make a start on site. 

After so many false dawns and failed plans, the council is confident that the scheme – “smaller and more realistic for the times that we live in” in Beacham’s words – is the right one for Chester.

“What we’re trying to do in Chester is recognise the really strong retail core around our historic streets,” he said.

“Housing, hospitality and experience-led stuff like visitor attractions have to contribute towards sustaining a really thriving town centre and the Northgate development is a magnet for that.

“It’s a huge attractor for it, and it will contribute significantly towards that vision.”

Northgate is just one part of a wider vision for this part of the city centre but phase two is a way off yet.

The second part of the project will see the Forum Shopping Centre and former indoor market redeveloped. The council owns both, as well as the freehold to the Crowne Plaza, which could also feature in future development plans. 

While this element of the project is not likely to come forward any time soon, there are some things we do know about phase two.

One is that it will be residential-led, signalling a move away from heavily criticised plans for a retail-led development. House of Fraser had been lined up to operate a 100,000 sq ft department store before the retailer pulled out in 2018. 

Another thing the council is clear on is that, unlike the first phase, the second will be delivered in partnership with a private sector developer. 

CWAC has done the hard yards in finally getting Northgate done, and Beacham hopes this effort will bear fruit in the shape of inward investment from the private sector in the future.

“We’re already seeing it happen,” Beacham said. “Housing developments are coming along down the canal, there’s a lot of hotel development happening in the city and the Grosvenor Shopping Centre has just been bought.

“I think that Northgate and the council’s commitment to the city have demonstrated to external people that this is a place to invest. It is an exciting place.”

Click any image to launch gallery – all images by Place North West

Your Comments

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Nicest city in the north west

By Phi

The new market will be a great attraction and of the type so fashionable on the continent, just annoying that these type of projects take so long to come to fruition in most of the UK.

By Anonymous

Seems like all of Chester’s Eggs are in the one (Northgate) basket whilst the rest of the city dies a slow death of shop closures, charity shops and coffee outlets. Wake up you councilors and wash the sleep from your eyes. I expect the newNorthgste to be full of the usual suspects you see on any non descript Town you visit these days. A massive let down for out of town day trippers. Luckily the Romans sorted you out or you’d be in big trouble

By Chris

So many Sheds in one area of the city ..well done all Concerned

By John Lynn

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