ING delays Chester retail decision until autumn

The starting date for ING's Northgate development has been delayed for at least another six months.

A rescue plan to save the £400m leisure and retail scheme was expected to be unveiled at a meeting of Chester City Council's executive team last week, but the council and ING are now considering a new programme of proposals outlining options to control the costs instead.

The project, which was designed by architects Michael Hopkins and Chapman Taylor, has been besieged by problems since detailed planning permission was granted by The Government Office for the North West in 2003.

Redeveloping the Northgate area within the city walls, the Northgate Development was to provide 400,000 sq ft of leisure and retail facilities, including a new performing arts centre, library, market hall, public transport interchange, several civic squares, as well as new residential apartments. The scheme would replace the existing Forum shopping centre and Gateway Theatre, and move the library and market hall.

But rising costs caused by the global credit crunch led to the scheme being put on hold last December.

Since then the council and ING have been working together to find a way to reduce the cost of the project while creating new opportunities to generate extra income.

A statement from Chester City Council said: "It was hoped by the City Council and ING that the Northgate scheme would get the go ahead in November 2007. This proved impossible for a number of reasons including uncertainty in the credit markets, commercial and construction price inflation and the impact on property values generally. In the circumstances ING had no choice but to review the programme for the scheme, having particular regard to its financial viability.

"The City Council and ING have been in discussion over the last few months, focussing on delivering the entire Northgate scheme without any changes. ING has been trying to reduce the cost of building the scheme and looking at alternative ways to increase income from the completed development. It is hoped a way forward can be identified within the next couple of months.

"ING has now proposed November 2008 as the date for the final exchange of all legal documents with a start on site December 2008/January 2009. There are many factors outside the City Council's control that could influence the timescale.

"Effectively this means a 12 month delay to the scheme, which is disappointing for both the council and for ING, who remain committed to this development which is so vitally important to the economic and cultural life of Chester."

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