ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have called for those in power to rethink Chester’s multi-million pound Northgate Scheme as a way of boosting the city as a retail centre.
The Cheshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) charity have urged Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) to rethink the scheme, claiming a return to growth for the city “cannot be fuelled by debt driven consumer spending”.
The charity’s comments come on the back of CWaC’s announcement last month they had acquired 85 per cent of the land needed in the city centre, including The Forum Shopping Centre, and taken a significant step forward in realising the delivery of the scheme.
The news was not welcomed by CPRE Cheshire Branch chairman, Andrew Needham, who said: “A sustainable return to growth cannot be fuelled by debt-driven consumer spending.
“Retaining Chester’s role as a major retail, leisure and tourism destination is important. However, the plan needs to recognise the realities of retail trends, in particular the rise of internet shopping.
“Improvements in quality not quantity of offer will be key. Declining retail rankings cannot be reversed simply by providing more floorspace.
“There may be a need for some new floorspace to meet the changing needs of retail operators, but not anywhere near the scale proposed.”
The £300m Northgate Scheme, which it has been said would create more than 200 construction and about 1,600 full-time equivalent jobs in the city, includes proposals for new shops, flats, bars and restaurants to be created in Northgate Street’s city centre location.
Speaking at the time of the announcement of the acquisition of the city centre land, CWaC leader Cllr Mike Jones, who described the news as “a truly momentous moment” for the city, said: “In September (2013), experts told us very clearly Chester must develop or decline.
“This announcement reflects our determination to ensure our city enjoys a prosperous future as an iconic retail, culture and heritage centre.”
In a response to the consultation on CWaC’s local draft plan, the charity has proposed the council should increase the employed and residential populations in and adjacent to the centre, claiming it revitalises both the day and evening economies in order to help boost the retail sector in Chester by providing consistent footfall.
Mr Needham added: “Increasing the number of people living in the centre in particular would also increase safety and security.
“A comprehensively planned Northgate scheme should include a significant proportion of residential development.
“Living Over The Shop (LOTS) should specifically be promoted, alongside other medium to high density residential buildings.
“The Northgate scheme as it stands is based on an out-dated retail model.
“The fact the council is proposing to take on a substantial amount of the development risk itself highlights there is little commercial appetite for new retail development on this scale.”