A NEW Northgate Development masterplan has been given the go-ahead.
But there are fears the ambitious scheme could alienate some sections of the Chester community.
Revised proposals for the long-awaited city centre redevelopment won unanimous backing during a special meeting of Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC).
Shops, restaurants and cafés are included in the £300 million scheme, along with an eight-screen cinema and replacement market .
London-based consultants CACI have warned CWaC the scheme must be delivered to reverse Chester’s slide down the retail rankings.
But there are concerns about a proposal to build on the Princess Street bus exchange and have most buses operating from Gorse Stacks instead.
Blacon councillors Reggie Jones, Carolyn Graham and Marie Nelson worry the move could impact negatively on bus users as well as businesses and market traders and bus users.
“We recognise Chester does have a wealthy catchment area, but it also has a significant catchment that rely less on brand names and more on modest shopping needs,” they said in a statement.
“Without adequate provision to the current bus interchange, it will result in a long, difficult, uphill walk into the city centre for people with mobility problems.”
The councillors also point out other local authorities have scrapped bus interchanges only to bring them back years later.
“We should be mindful of this before agreeing on a policy of ‘no turning back’,” they said.
“If we get it wrong, we will be stuck with this for the next 50 years.
“We believe, public opinion would support refurbishment of the current site of the bus interchange.
“It provides an opportunity to create the ‘additionality’ of significantly increased footfall within a revised Northgate scheme and supports the sustainability of the existing market.
“For us there is no question or doubt that further work complimented by public opinion needs to be carried out before we commit to a final decision of moving the bus interchange.”
In 2000, ING Real Estate and the former Chester City Council unveiled ambitious £460m plans to regenerate the city centre but the scheme failed to get off the ground.
CWaC ditched ING last year, having grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and unveiled its own plan to boost trade and make the city centre more vibrant.
Councillors have now backed that new vision and have agreed to bring in a development and design team to get concept plans for the development to planning application stage by spring 2015.
When the revised masterplan was unveiled, CWaC hailed the scheme as having the potential to create more than 1,600 jobs, boost spending by £143m and bring in an extra £8m in business rates.
Cllr Samantha Dixon, who represents the city centre, told the special meeting: “Chester is the retail engine that needs to carry the rest of the borough.
“ It should be performing strongly, bringing jobs and money into the borough and contributing to increase revenue.
“If it doesn’t, if this decline continues, then the consequences affect the whole of the borough. We need to invest in Chester to help keep the borough going.”
Cllr Les Ford, executive member for resources and deputy council leader, told the meeting the council had to take the scheme forward.
“The evidence is clear – ‘develop or decline’. We have no alternative,” he said.