Criticism of Chester’s £300m Northgate project has recently come to a head, with local businesses rallying behind a letter to its developer, Cheshire West & Chester Council, calling for an immediate halt on the scheme. But is there an alternative, and can the city reinvent itself as a modern leisure destination?
Walking down Chester’s Foregate Street as the city’s retail core begins, it soon becomes clear that all is not well.
At the top end of the street before it joins Eastgate and merges with the city’s famous rows, there are a host of empty units, with Primark now the most prominent store as you enter the retail core. A BHS is still vacant – at around 60,000 sq ft, it isn’t small – while a number of other shops feature prominent ‘to let’ signs. Other shops including a Poundworld are also set to close at the top of the street, leaving more space vacant.
Estimates suggest there is around 200,000 sq ft of vacant retail space in the city’s core – which begs the question, why does Cheshire West & Chester need to spend public money on building 45 more shops?
The project in question is Chester Northgate, a £300m, council-developed, retail-led mixed-use scheme focussed on a plot bordered by Northgate Street, Hunter Street, St Martin’s Way, and Hamilton Place.