Rivington Land has been paid £1.6m by Cheshire West & Chester Council for its role on the proposed £300m Northgate project in Chester, which has come under heavy criticism from local businesses, although the company’s chief executive David Lewis said “a great deal” had been achieved since its appointment.
According to a freedom of information request, since being appointed as development manager for the project in July 2014, Rivington Land has been paid £1.64m of public money for its role on Northgate, which is yet to start on site.
The retail project in Chester City Centre, which is set to feature 45 shops, 12 restaurants, a hotel, offices, car parking, and 120 homes.
Despite spades not yet hitting the ground, the council said earlier this year it was aiming to complete the project’s first phase in 2020. A second phase is planned to complete in 2022, although a funder is not yet in place.
Speaking at a council meeting last night, Tim Kenney of property consultants Kenneymoore, who along with Guy Butler of developer Glenbrook led an open letter signed by 120 property professionals to call for a halt to the Northgate project, outlined the figures in the freedom of information request and argued the scheme “was killing the city”.
“You have the wrong scheme for Northgate, and I would venture to suggest it’s being run by the wrong people, and being delivered in an opaque and unaccountable manner.
“We already have over 200,000 sq ft of vacant or available retail space that we can’t let; and we can’t let that because of the spectre of this Northgate scheme hanging over the city – it’s sterilising investment.”
Kenney called for the delivery the cinema and the market square “as soon as possible” but said the relocation and redevelopment of the hotel, alongside the retail element, should be paused.
Rivington’s £1.6m payment combines with nearly £1m in fees paid to a consultant team of Aecom, GVA, Strutt & Parker, and Gardiner & Theobald since 2016, as first revealed by Place North West last month.
This means Cheshire West & Chester Council has spent more than £2.6m of public money on professional fees for Northgate in just over four years.
The freedom of information requests also revealed agents including JLL and Strutt & Parker were paid £34,000 to secure House of Fraser as an anchor tenant for a 100,000 sq ft department store. The retailer has since pulled out of Northgate following a Creditors Voluntary Arrangement earlier this year.
However, speaking to Place North West, David Lewis, chief executive of Rivington Land, said the fees should be looked at “in context of all that we’ve achieved over four years”.
He outlined the steps the project has gone through, with Rivington initially acting as both project manager and development manager for the £300m scheme.
Steps taken so far include feasibility studies, planning – including detailed consent for the first phase and a hybrid consent for the second phase – the pre-letting process, which has secured Crowne Plaza, Picturehouse Cinemas, Tapas Revolution and Cosy Club; the archaeological process and liaison with Historic England; and the process running up to the compulsory process order enquiry, which was completed this spring.
“We are acutely aware with the difficulties in the retail sector, but that’s why we have built inherent flexibility into the planning consent we have secured,” he said.
He added that while House of Fraser pulling out of the scheme was a blow, the 100,000 sq ft department store that forms part of phase two could be put forward for alternative uses.
He said Rivington Land would be “happy to speak” to parties including Kenney about the scheme, and added “it should be a time where we’re talking Chester up, not talking it down”.
In its response to Kenney and Butler’s letter last month, Cheshire West & Chester said the city “needs to improve its retail offer” and added: “We believe this because it is what retailers and our advisors tell us”. The council said it would be willing to meeting with Kenney and Butler to discuss the project.
Cheshire West & Chester Council has also developed the Barons Quay project in Northwich, a retail-led regeneration scheme delivered at a cost of £71m. It opened in 2016, but as of this month, the 225,000 sq ft development is 56% full.