Cheshire West and Chester Council has agreed to acquire the city centre land and property assets of ING Real Estate Development UK.
The multi-million-pound deal announced in a joint statement today (Friday) will give the Council control of 85% of the land needed for the critical Northgate Scheme.
Last night (Thursday) a special council meeting gave unanimous backing to a massive step in the battle to reverse Chester’s decline as a top retail centre.
Said Council Leader Mike Jones: “This is a truly momentous moment for Chester. Negotiations have been in progress for some time and I am delighted that we have reached a positive agreement with ING Real Estate Development UK.”
“In September, the experts told us very clearly that 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.”
Added the leader: “These are indeed exciting times for Chester with preliminary work on the theatre site already under way.”
The £300m Northgate Scheme will create over 200 construction and around 1,600 full-time equivalent jobs for Chester, with additional economic benefits accruing for the city through spending visitors and the multiplier impact of the wages of new workers being spent in the local economy.
A spokesman for ING Real Estate Development UK said: “We are confident that this sale will help to secure a vibrant and exciting centre for residents of Chester and visitors alike. Having Cheshire West and Chester Council invest directly in the Northgate development is a strong vote of confidence in the long term vision for this historic centre.”
CWAC have acquired The Forum shopping centre; the grassed and landscaped area bounded by St Martin’s Way, Hunters Walk and Princess Street; land and paved area east and south east of Goldsmith House and Hamilton Place; Kirkton House, Hunter Street and land to the west side and rear of Hunter Street.
Councillor Ben Powell, Opposition spokesman for Resources and a member of the cross- party Northgate Working Group said: “The Northgate Development is not only critical to Chester‘s ability to resist strong competition from its neighbours – but will also bring benefits for the whole of the Borough in the shape of investment, tourism and new jobs.
“Acquisition of ING’s interests was critical to demonstrating confidence to the investment market in the Council’s ability to progress with a scheme, first envisaged, in a different form, in 1992, by the former City Council.”
This scheme enables the Council to address Chester’s retail decline, recapturing expenditure lost to shopping centres elsewhere in the region, by inducing additional visitor expenditure and combating the impact of internet-based shopping.
In September, members agreed to approve the procurement of a development and design team and the finance to get the Northgate concept plans to the planning application stage by spring 2015.
They had considered a report from CACI – the London-based specialist consumer and retail research company – warning that in terms of cash spend per head of the population, Chester had dropped from 27th out of 4,000 retail centres in 2006 to 59th in 2012.
CACI considered that the Northgate scheme is estimated to attract a further £90m annual retail spend to the city of Chester as a whole.
Whilst the UK continued to experience difficult property market conditions, schemes including around one million square feet of leisure schemes – with predominately cinema, food and beverage content – were under consideration.
And Chester, with its significantly higher proportion of wealthy achievers within its catchment than anywhere else in the Region – plus its wider appeal as a visitor destination – is the type of ‘blue-chip’ regional centre still attracting the attention of developers.
An amendment from Councillor Powell asked members to reaffirm that all parties were committed to a shared vision for the regeneration of Northgate in order to attract investment and benefit the health and wellbeing of residents.