More than 120 senior professionals have signed a letter calling for Cheshire West & Chester Council to stop work on its £300m Northgate project. The letter, put forward by Tim Kenney of Kenneymoore and Guy Butler of Glenbrook, was submitted to the council on Friday.
It was sent out to business leaders across the region and argued the private sector has “lost confidence in the council to deliver a successful regeneration within a reasonable timescale”.
It has attracted 121 signatories, including the chief executive of Queensbury Real Estate; an executive director of the University of Chester; a director at Blackrock Real Assets; three directors at Mason Owen; retail agents Jenics; six partners from property investment firm Christoper Dee; and a number of local retail businesses. A full list of the signatories, alongside the full text of the letter, can be found below.
The £300m mixed-use scheme in Chester city centre has picked up pace since the award of a new planning consent in September 2016. Early last year, House of Fraser signed as retail anchor and Crowne Plaza agreed terms on a new conferencing hotel.
Northgate would include 45 further shops, 12 restaurants, a Picturehouse cinema, 120 apartments, 1,000 parking spaces and 25,000 sq ft of offices. Retail and leisure tenants, including Tapas Revolution in a 3,000 sq ft unit, have already been announced.
However, the letter, sent to council leader Samantha Dixon and deputy chief executive Charles Seward describes Northgate as “misguided and unviable,” and also heavily criticises the “slow progress” made on the scheme so far. The letter has also been sent to Chester’s Labour MP Chris Matheson.
“We agree sustainable and deliverable development on this important site is critical to the future vitality of Chester, however progress over the recent years has been slow and the proposed scheme is now both misguided and unviable,” it said.
“With all the development spend coming from public funds or borrowing, the current trajectory is concerning, and we believe pausing now is the sensible course of action.”
It is also highly critical of the council’s financial approach to the scheme, arguing more than £30m had been spent with “little or no return”, and said the proposals to demolish the existing hotel on the site and replace it with a new-build Crowne Plaza was “fundamentally wrong”.
“The council admits the current project is not financially viable; nor has it secured significant or deliverable rent paying pre-lets, or any private sector funding,” it said.
Kenney has been an outspoken critic of the council’s approach to retail development, particularly its £71m Barons Quay project in Northwich, which he said was “clear failure” and “would end up being demolished”. The development, opened in 2016, only has three tenants and remains largely vacant.
Speaking at Place North West’s Cheshire Development Update, Kenney said aiming to compete with Manchester or Liverpool was the wrong approach, and that Chester should instead use its heritage assets and a leisure-led approach to regeneration.
Despite the heavy criticism, the council remains bullish that private backers will support the scheme, and has set out a timeline to deliver phase one of the scheme by 2020 and the second phase by 2022.
Speaking to Place North West at March’s MIPIM property conference in Cannes, the council’s director of place commissioning Graham Pink said the site “had largely been de-risked”.
“The encouraging thing is that funders seem to ‘get it’ – they appreciate the importance of the city’s history, the affluence of the county and sub-region. Now is the time to have those conversations,” he said.
The council, advised by GVA and Rivington Land, already owns around 85% of the land required. Gardiner & Theobald is the project manager for the scheme while Aecom is the quantity surveyor, and the council has also shortlisted two contractors – Laing O’Rourke and Vinci – to potentially build the scheme.
Cheshire West & Chester has been approached for comment.
Proposed Chester Northgate Development
We, the undersigned, believe that Cheshire West & Chester Council are about to make a huge mistake with the 14 acre £300m Chester Northgate Development, and we have lost confidence in the ability of the Council to deliver a successful regeneration within a reasonable timescale.
We ask the Council, their consultants and advisors to cease all further work on the main retail and hotel relocation elements of the scheme with immediate effect, and to comprehensively review the use, viability, programme and funding of the development. What is currently proposed for the hotel relocation, and the main retail element is now fundamentally the wrong scheme.
We agree sustainable and deliverable development on this important site is critical to the future vitality of Chester, however progress over the recent years has been slow and with all the development spend coming from public funds or borrowing, the current trajectory is concerning. We believe stopping now is the only sensible course of action.
Current published statistics from The British Retail Consortium, the failed merger of Hammerson with Intu, high profile retailer insolvencies, and general comments from the UK’s major retailers (including the proposed anchor store House of Fraser) demonstrate that high street retailing is experiencing structural and permanent change. Despite all of this, the Council continue to propose a new and very large retail led scheme.
Retailers ‘secured’ are likely to be sourced from elsewhere in the City, thus creating even more voids in the established retail core -a common problem with new retail schemes. Even before the start of the scheme its impact is being felt as retailers are not committing to leases of length, and we have over 250,000 sq ft of vacant space in the City before Northgate adds more. We have stagnation and a lack of investment as a direct consequence of the spectre of the development, and the market needs certainty, not uncertainty.
The Council openly admits the current project is not financially viable. It has not secured significant or deliverable rent paying pre-lets, nor any private sector funding. To date the scheme has cost £30m+ which shows little or no return. Mistakes have been made by the Council at Baron’s Quay, Northwich, where the £70m+ new development has only three occupiers, and is a clear failure. This is an unsound track record on which to try and deliver Chester Northgate.
In asking the Council to cease work on the Northgate Project we seek a comprehensive review of alternative uses for the site, and that the procurement of any new scheme be undertaken with the full engagement of the private sector. We also ask that an independent review of the financial expenditure to date is undertaken and shared publicly.
In supporting this letter, we also offer our support to be part of a wider consultation to create a sustainable alternative Northgate Development of which the City can be proud.
Richard Cundall, director, Acaster LLP; Stephen Burkill, director, Back Alley Music Ltd.; Harry Fildes, director, Barlows Ltd.; Steve Cassidy, head of property, Beaverbrooks The Jewellers Ltd.; Julie Swinnerton, principal, Benison Day Nursery & vice-chair of the Chester Business Club; Justin Rice Jones, director, Beresford Adamns Commercial; Juliusz Lizowski, managing director, Bianca Trading; Dean Paton, managing director, Big Heritage; Brian Birtwistle, partner, Birtwistle Property Consultants; Simon Durkin, director, Blackrock Real Assets; Martin Dodd, director, Bolton Birch Chartered Surveyors; Simon Bolton, director, Bolton Birch Chartered Surveyors; Richard Bolton, director; Bolton Birch Chartered Surveyors; Bob Clough-Parker, director, BCP Organisation, and secretary of Chester Business Club; Gavin Scott-Brooker, partner, Brooker & Co; Nigel Bruce, partner, Bruce & Partners; David Adams, director, Cavendish Rentals Ltd; Nick Kurtesz, asset manager, Cervidae Consultancy Ltd.; Glenda Law, director, Changing Home; Richard Grove, general manager, Chester Grosvenor Hotel; Prof. Phil Harris, executive director, the University of Chester; Mark Powell, partner, Christopher Dee; Dan Campbell, partner, Christopher Dee; Chris Jones, partner, Christopher Dee; Chris Bathurst, partner, Christopher Dee; James Kinsler, partner, Christopher Dee; Chris Dudhill, partner, Christopher Dee; Karen Williams, director, Crescendo Consulting UK; Peter Richards, managing director; Crickhowell Properties; Adam Dandy, director, Dandy Group; Simon Read, corporate executive, Daulby Reed Ltd.; Peter Goddard, managing director, Daulby Reed Ltd.; Stuart Williams, managing director, Delamere Forest Properties; Hannah Baker, Denton Clarke Rentals; Andrew Mills, director, District Estates; Chris Shaw, director, District Estates; Ian Davies, director, District Estates; David Jones, associate director, Empire Commercial Finance; Stephen Rought-Whitta, Energie Fitness; Mark Fearnall, director, Fearnall; Dan Oliver, director Emanuel Oliver Property Consultants; Llyr Emanuel, director, Emanuel Oliver Property Consultants; Ewan Mackay, principal, Ewan Mackay Property Consultants; Simon Kent, director, Fabyouless/Park Fields; John Fifield, chairman, Fifield Glyn Property Consultants; Ed Clarke, director, Fisher German; Simon Kirsten, director, Fisher Wilson; Guy Butler, director Glenbrook Developments Ltd.; Simon Hetherington, managing director, Goodcall Internet Marketing Ltd.; Don Bircham, managing director, Hays Travel Northwest; Tim Mallinson, partner, Hodkinson Mallinson Partnership; Nick Casson, managing director, Hollins Murray Group; Lisa Curran, partner, Homesale/Homelet Group; Kevin McIntosh, director, HW Maintenance & Building; Mike Ridell, director, Insite Limited; Nick Hodson, director, Jane Lewis Healthcare; Justin Paul, managing director, J10 Planning Consultants; Jane Smellie, owner, Jane Smellie Opticians; Jeremy Collins, director, Jenics; Neil Bowler, director, Jenics; Simon Lees-Jones, director, J W Lees; Ken Jones, director, Jones Melling Surveyors; Gary Melling, director, Jones Melling Surveyors; Tony Kaye, owner, Kaye’s Jewellers; Tim Kenney, partner, Kenneymoore; Howard Moore, partner, Kenneymoore; Colin Jennings, director, Lambert Smith Hampton; Haluk Yalcin, director, Leonidas Chester; Mustafa Cebeci, director, Leonidas Chester; William Lewis, partner, Lewis Land & Property; Elaine Smilie, director, Living Floors Limited; Jamie Moffatt, director, Mason Owen; Andrew Scott, director, Mason Owen; Barry Owen, chairman, Mason Owen; Lee Quinn, partner, Mason & Partners; Lee Randle, partner, Mason & Partners; Tom Gibson, partner, Mason & Partners; Rebecca Matthews, managing director, Matthews of Chester; Andy Maire, partner, Morgan Maire Chartered Surveyors; Peter Mowbray, managing director, Mowbray Gill; Ian Gill, owner, New Street Commercial; Hugh Ockleston, director, Ockleston Bailey; Douglas McGeorge, chief executive, Oddfellows Hotels; Jonathan Slater, director, Oddfellows Hotels; Kay Cook, director, Oliver & Co Solicitors; Roy Janes, director, Old White Property; Paul Quellyn-Roberts, director, Quellyn-Roberts Limited; Roger Parker, director, Parker & Co.; Stuart Pilling, director, Pilling Associates; Andrew Marshall, partner, Powell Williams Partnership; Paul Sargent, chief executive, Queensberry Real Estate; Paul Moss, operations director, Ravensmere Construction Limited; Alex Kennedy, development manager, Ravensmere Construction Limited; David Lubel, managing director, Remington Partners Ltd.; Richard Baddeley, director, Richard Baddeley & Co.; Dan Rogers, head of agency, Roger Hannah & Co.; Chris McGarrigle, UK & Ireland estates surveyor, Signet Group; Nigel Anderton, managing director, Smith Nicholas/District Estates; Charles Dodman, managing director, Smithy View Service Station, Wrexham; Tim Rickitt, managing director, Rickitt Partnership; Emma Rickitt, director, Rickitt Parntership; Amelia Barrett, surveyor, Sixteen Real Estate; Alex Haigh, director, Sixteen Real Estate; Nicola Harrington, director, Sixteen Real Estate; Julie Smith, director SJ & JS Ltd.; Barry Bellamy, managing director, SNS Chester; Susanna Posnett; Andrew Bird, managing director, Tilstone Partners Ltd.; Robert Ramsay, asset manager, Threadneedle Property Investments; Pauline Thompson, partner, Thompson Cox Partnership; Rod Cox, partner, Thompson Cox Partnership; Mindy Bishop, surveyor, Wild Commercial Property; Danny Wild, partner, Wild Commercial Property; Richard Hogben, managing director, Waltons the Jewellers; Katie Jones, owner, Weasel & the Bug; Des Pheby, managing director, Wok & Go; Robert Reed, senior surveyor, Wright Marshall; Majid Zameer, managing director, Zameero on behalf of the Perveise Naveide Pension Fund.