A £60m first phase of Chester’s Northgate development is set to complete in spring 2021 under a new timeline published by Cheshire West & Chester, which council leaders have said will be the start of “one of the largest regeneration projects in the UK”.
Cheshire West & Chester’s cabinet will next week be asked to sign off £6m of funding to bring the first phase to construction, following Government approval for the site assembly and proposed changes to street layout last month.
Under the updated timeline, groundworks and site preparation for the £60m first phase, which includes a new market, public realm, food and drink space, and a cinema, will start in the autumn of 2019, with construction starting early in 2020. The new market will have to complete before the existing market can be demolished.
Speaking to Place North West, Graham Pink, Cheshire West & Chester’s director of place commissioning and commercial management, and Charlie Seward, deputy chief executive of place, said there would likely be some changes to the existing planning consent for the first phase, with additions potentially including residential to the Western end of the site and additional car parking.
“The £6m will help us undertake additional feasibility work to see if the mix is right – we think it pretty much is – and the intention is to consult on these plans for the rest of the year with an updated application going in for phase one in the spring,” said Seward, who added there would be public consultation events held on any new application for the site.
“We’re looking at scope for further parking, which is the key potential change, alongside possible residential,” he said, although the number of possible residential units is still being looked at.
A main contractor has not yet been named, but the council’s shortlist of Laing O’Rourke and Vinci remains; a decision will be made following a council meeting on 18 October, when the Northgate plan is set to be approved. The contract will be under design-and-build, and according to Pink, the phasing of the development “will depend on the input of the contractor”. Starting on site will require a further decision from council, added Pink, and the contract will be valued at around £60m.
“The current thinking is building [phase one] in the most efficient way to open it in the shortest possible timescale,” said Pink. “All the elements will be built as part of the same programme but how it’s built is up to the contractor.”
The project’s consultant team is also likely to be tweaked as the project progresses t
o site, the council confirmed, with Seward saying the council’s Northgate project leaders “are constantly reviewing” the existing team, which features architect Acme, development manager Rivington Land, Aecom, and consultant GVA.
According to Pink, there would be “a need to re-procure in some fashion” and while Acme’s designs for the scheme will be “reused where possible” it is likely another architect or consultant team will be used as delivery architect, and on the potential new planning permissions that will be needed before construction can start.
The food and beverage mix has been expanded with the addition of Zizzi’s, taking the number of tenants to three, along with Cosy Club and Tapas Revolution; Seward said that following the Government’s decision on the CPO process last month there had been some “very positive conversations” with additional leisure occupiers.
This retail-led second phase, formerly set to be home to a House of Fraser department store before the retailer pulled out this year, has been singled out for criticism by objectors to the scheme, led by Tim Kenney of consultant Kenneymoore and developer Guy Butler, but Seward added there would be “constant reviews” into the shape and mix of the second phase as phase one is brought forward.
Adding a multi-storey car park to phase one, echoing one of the major additions and alterations suggestions by the objectors, is being considered, which could also impact the site of the new Crowne Plaza hotel, which is programmed as part of the project’s second phase. This hotel will replace the existing building only a few hundred yards away, but the move has been heavily criticised by the scheme’s objectors as “burning money”.
“The council is in dialogue with the hotel at the moment, and there is a mutual agreement that having a high-quality hotel is very important,” said Seward, “but how and where we provide that will be part of the feasibility work for phase one.”
Both Seward and Pink said the council’s new chief executive Andrew Lewis, who joined this summer, was “fully behind the project”.
Cheshire West & Chester’s cabinet will meet on 9 October to discuss the funding package, with final sign-off expected at a full council meeting on 18 October.