Chester Northgate Scheme

4th April 2020

CPRE continues to engage with the progress of the Chester Northgate scheme.

The Overall Scheme

The CPRE recognises the importance and will get involved with development in urban areas because it can relieve the pressure of development in the countryside.

Having objected to the planning approval in September last year, CPRE Cheshire continues to campaign against this development and particularly to the massive 8 storey car park. There are serious faults with the proposals for the new market hall, the cinema and the former library which means that all of the whole of Northgate Phase 1 is wrong.

It has been claimed as necessary to improve upon the existing forum with its market, theatre and underground car parks, but a council report in 2018 stated the existing car park needs only minor improvements, the theatre still works for amateur productions and the existing market hall has recently been declared the best in Britain.
The demolition and redevelopment of these structures are contrary to the principles of sustainability with an unnecessary and avoidable impact on carbon emissions particularly as some of the elements of the Phase 1 proposals are as bad or worse than the 60’s buildings they are proposed to replace.

The council’s claims for the sustainability of the green walls instead of real landscaping are particularly worrying as it is responsible for a major development portfolio and for planning throughout the borough.

This development is important for the regeneration of Chester. We believe that the current proposals are wrong and could be so much better. We encourage CPRE members to look at these proposals, continue to raise comments with the council and to keep a very wary eye on consultations on any future development including Northgate Phase 2.

Chester Northgate Multi-storey car park

The multi storey car park

This is the biggest part of the Northgate phase 1 development and is some 75% of the developed floor area. It will damage the city and its surrounding countryside. It conflicts with the council’s climate change policies and some 20 other planning policies, particularly regarding transport, movement, scale and the historic city.

Its 788 car spaces provide a surplus of several hundred additional city centre car parking spaces, where car use in the city should be discouraged. It will adversely affect the environment, air quality, health, traffic flows, safety and may become redundant with the use of autonomous vehicles.

It closes Princess Street with steps to serve its large floor plates, damages connectivity, creates hazards, blocks the main entrance to existing underground car parks and prejudices future development of the area where it is premature and without context with previous plans for phase 2 having been abandoned without replacement.

It spoils views of the city from and to the West, where there are exceptional views of the Welsh Hills and sunsets over the Wirral.

It was added late to the scheme in 2019 when the Crowne Plaza refused to accept the similarly out of scale hotel that was previously proposed on the site. Its size has been claimed to be justified by the scale of the approved hotel, proving the rule that two wrongs make a right in planning precedents.

Its claimed benefits of improved security, manoeuvring space and electric charging facilities could be provided by refurbishment of all the existing car parks. Retaining the existing car park spaces would at least help to justify their deep excavations which destroyed the greatest part of roman archaeological remains.

The New Market Hall and Cinema

As well as questioning the relocation of the market hall at all, we are concerned about the proposed location in Phase 1, where it might instead occupy the former library site and extend across the rear of the other properties on Northgate Street as do the current proposals for shops and galleries at Hunters Walk. We believe that this solution was missed because the decision to move the library to Storyhouse was made after the decision to relocate the market hall to the site behind it. The subsequent proposals for the library building have been tacked on to the Northgate Development and miss the opportunity of replacing a market hall with frontage to Northgate Street and its market square.

The idea of locating the six screen cinema over the proposed market hall is disturbing when all previous cinemas in the city have failed. Should we prejudice the viability of the market hall, which is an important public building, by integrating it structurally with such a commercially precarious function? There could instead be more flexible, varied and sustainable uses including housing. If it is considered that a cinema is important it should be located where its failure would have less impact on other uses.
The charge of gentrification has also been raised where many of the traditional and long term stall holders have left or have said that they are unlikely to move to the new market hall, which despite claims of its unique quality and vitality, looks like the cafeteria at IKEA.

The former Library Building and Hunters Walk

As noted above, the relocation of the library to the Storyhouse was not considered with the original redevelopment and subsequent proposals for this site have been unconvincing, particularly for the use of upper floors, which could again have a residential element in addition to other uses.

The streets and public external spaces

CPRE welcomes the proposals to reopen the Hunter Street junction with St Martin’s Way, but does not approve of the closure with steps to Princess Street and the consequent introduction of hazards and loss of easy movement and the lost opportunity of a loop via Hunter / Princess Street which would improve the potential of pedestrianisation of Northgate Street. The block sizes are too large and there is poor permeability within the scheme, particularly north to south between Hunter Street and Princess Street. There is a lack of landscape improvement to the streets and public spaces and the multi storey carpark particularly presents an inactive and inhospitable frontage to the streets.

To conclude for now

The development is apparently going ahead despite delays and growing concerns. The drains that should have been provided in the 60s are currently being provided ahead of the rest of phase 1. The council claims that the development will be further assessed in terms of its carbon impact on the council’s carbon emissions budget, but we have yet to see evidence of this and previous statements failed to meet the requirements of the local plan. The climate emergency continues with the target dates and tipping points drawing closer. We take every opportunity to request a review of the scheme and we continue to engage with the council and others positively. No public consultation has been undertaken for phase 2 or the remainder of the development. There will be further pressures from the economic impacts of the corona virus. There are also major town centre developments proposed for Ellesmere Port and Winsford.

More people need to look and comment on such proposals at early and planning application stages. Please contact us if you are interested in this sort of involvement.

Cheshire Live features a regularly-updated page of news about the Northgate Scheme which you can visit via this link:

https://www.cheshire-live.co.uk/all-about/northgate-development

The planning applications for the Northgate Scheme can be seen here:

Becca Nelson