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.
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.
- You can read a special report by Place North West on the Northgate development here