Chester Northgate Market Square
Acme's original designs for Northgate are likely to be overhauled in a fresh planning application

Architect replaced on Chester Northgate as council shakes up team

Charlie Schouten

Cheshire West & Chester has chosen AHR in place of previous architect Acme on its £300m mixed-use scheme in Chester city centre as part of a wider overhaul of the professional team, having already spent more than £12m on professional fees and site investigations.

Acme has been advising on Northgate since 2014 but will now not be working on the project after the client decided to carry out a shake-up of its team, ahead of a revised planning application for the first phase of the project due next year.

Place North West understands Acme will wind down its role on the project in the New Year with AHR on board to take over although the practice declined to comment on its appointment.

CWAC is also looking for a fresh planning consultant, drainage engineer, principal designer, structural and civil engineer, and party wall consultant.

Meanwhile, other consultants have been retained by CWAC to help bring forward the next phase.

These are development manager Rivington Land; client-side project manager Fraser Blair Associates; construction project manager Gardiner & Theobald; cost consultant Aecom; M&E consultant Hoare Lea; highways engineer Vectos; market advisor WMC; and car park advisors Town Centre Parking.

The £60m first phase, which has Vinci attached as main contractor, is set to feature a new market, cinema, car parking facilities, and leisure. The tenants already signed up are Zizzi’s, Cosy Club, Tapas Revolution, and cinema operator Picturehouse.

Under the council’s timeline, ground works are set to begin next autumn, with construction starting in early 2020. The new market will have to complete before the existing market can be demolished.

Hunters Walk

The entrance to the Northgate project under the current planning consent

In late October this year, the council signed off an additional £6m to deliver a revised planning application for this first phase. The funding will also go towards further feasibility studies, tenant negotiations, and enabling works.

The scheme secured planning consent more than two years ago but has come in for heavy criticism from local property professionals, particularly over the fees paid to the council’s consultant team.

Figures seen by Place show professional fees have stacked up to more than £12m, not including the £6m spend approved by the council in October. This includes consultants’ fees, archeology and site investigation, along with letting agents’ fees and PR costs.

According to Freedom of Information requests by Place, fees paid include £1.6m to Rivington Land; £308,000 to Fraser Blair; and nearly £1m in fees paid to a consultant team of Aecom, GVA, Strutt & Parker, and Gardiner & Theobald since 2016. Acme was paid £2.1m since its appointment in 2014, while consultant Chris Morland, who advised on the council’s CPO process for Northgate, was paid more than £611,000.

Earlier this year, around 120 property professionals signed a letter championed by Tim Kenney of Kenneymoore and Guy Butler of Glenbrook which called for the council to call a halt to the project.

Since then, the council has undergone a rethink of some of the main elements of the scheme, including scrapping a potential relocation of the city’s Crowne Plaza hotel and replacing this with a seven-storey car park.

Several working groups have been set up, featuring Kenney, Butler, and Chester Growth Partnership chairman Peter Carstensen, to suggest ways forward for the project, although it is understood the changes to the professional team, including the replacement of Acme, were not discussed with any of these working groups before the council decided to move forward with the shake-up.

The second phase of the project was originally earmarked for retail but since House of Fraser pulled out earlier this year, the council has looked again at the proposals; as a result future phases are more likely to focus on housing, leisure, and cultural offerings.

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That’ll sort it.

By Money pit

CWAC are a disgrace, just throwing taxpayers money at it is not going to solve it. £12 Million so far, plus the £6 Million in October. Someone should be accountable.

By John

Cheshire west and chester council are a total disgrace you only have to look at the shambles and distruction at BARONS QUAY in Northwich to see there not up to the job! and now the town of chester are having the same done to them! WE NEED TO BRING BACK CHESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL and VALE ROYAL BOROUGH COUNCIL TO SORT OUT THE MESS THEY HAVE GOT US INTO!

By Northwich

Like HS 2.Unessecary ,way overpriced, and will never recoup the£££ overspent on it.

By Justin

Does this not reflect what the Labour party did to the country (NO MONEY LEFT IN THE POT)

By Jester

‘Northwich’. I agree on localising government and that pairing Vale Royal with Chester is shortsighted – Northwich and Vale Royal probably have more in common with south Cheshire or even Manchester than with Chester, which is more in Merseyside’s orbit. But there’s no guarantee that a change of of councils will solve it – if they have the same councillors!

By SW

Dear Jester: You have been misled by the anarcho-capitalists (they call themselves conservative to fool us) and the Daily Mail et. al. Read Place North West instead, its champion! Today’s lesson: the global capitalist system (banks, financial institutes and capital markets) imploded in 2008 and revolving credit essential for businesses and governments stopped overnight (the banks went bust), so governments and central banks had to step in to save their national economies. Contrary to what the anarcho-capitalist/libertarian media said. By the way, the same crowd fooled folk into voting for Brexit (so that big money can ‘take back control’). Yes, I know. I’m boring and I should get a life!

By James Yates

It is clear that this project has been severely mismanaged throughout, given the amount of fee’s already paid without any real physical progress being made.

Just a thought, but perhaps it would have been better to get new project managers in who are capable of delivering a project of this nature, as opposed to replacing the design team whom are simply working under these managers?

How much is the bill going to rise by employing new architects, new planning consultants, new drainage engineers, a new principal designer, new structural and civil engineers, new party wall consultants??
They are in danger of “doubling-up” on consultants fee’s with these wholesale changes.

By Chester B

… this black hole of non-accountability must stop now and a thorough investigation of where and how the money has been spent is one thing but how was it procured, where does the buck stop, who is in control, what were the previous architects paid for, etc, etc, etc

This money could have and should have been spent on frontline services not an ego project that some in the Council have been trying to deliver for nearly 20 years – come on new CEO sort it out!

By Norman Davies

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