Cheshire West & Chester chief executive Andrew Lewis has promised the vision for the £60m first phase of Chester Northgate will not be presented “on a take-it-or-leave-it basis” once a fresh consultation on the scheme launches next month.
Lewis, who has been in post for around five months after joining from the Tees Valley Combined Authority, said there was “the need for debate” over the revised plans for the opening phase of mixed-use Northgate scheme, which is due to get under way early next year.
Speaking at the University of Chester’s A Black and White Future event hosted at the Storyhouse, Lewis, pictured right, vowed the council would be “stepping up our engagement” on Northgate, with the CWAC leadership having previously been criticised by local businesses and property professionals for a perceived lack of dialogue over the scheme.
Updated designs for the mixed-use project are due to be shared by the council in mid-February, with a vacant unit in the Forum shopping centre set aside to host a series of consultation events, although the exact date of these is yet to be confirmed.
Although the scheme already has planning consent, Cheshire West & Chester is bringing forward a fresh planning application for the site following a rethink. The council signed off an additional £6m in funding to support this, and architect AHR has since been brought on board, replacing original designer ACME.
The scheme already has a number of leisure tenants signed up, including Picturehouse, which will operate a six-screen cinema.
Zizzi’s, Cosy Club, and Tapas Revoultion are also on board to occupy some of the restaurant units and Lewis said there had been “productive discussions with other restaurant occupiers”. Lewis reiterated residential would also play a part in the revised consent, with a mix of leisure, public realm, a new market, and a car park set to be brought forward.
Proposals to move the site of the neighbouring Crowne Plaza to a new-build facility have been scrapped by the council; these were heavily criticised in an open letter put forward last year and signed by 120 local businesses.
Also speaking at the event, Andy Foster of Chester-based Raise Architects criticised the previous consent for the scheme, arguing the city was “lucky that we never built it out as originally planned”.
He also echoed Lewis’ call for more public engagement on phase one: “If the next round of engagement amounts to putting a series of boards in a retail unit then we will have failed; we can’t pay lip service to public views”.
Under the council’s timeline for phase one, ground works are set to begin in the autumn with main works starting in early 2020. The new market will have to be completed before the existing market can be demolished. Vinci is on board as main contractor.
The second phase, which was originally due to host a House of Fraser megastore, has largely gone back to the drawing board since the retailer pulled out last year.
At present, CWAC is looking to refresh its professional team on the first phase, and is looking to appoint a 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.
According to figures seen by Place North West, professional fees on Northgate have so far stacked up to more than £12m, not including the £6m spend approved by the council in October. This includes consultants’ fees, archaeology and site investigation, along with letting agents’ fees and PR costs.