What is Chester Northgate?
Chester Northgate is the most significant development in Chester for decades and will transform the city’s historic core, supporting the whole city to thrive.
It will create jobs, increase tourism and drive economic growth and provide a crucial catalyst for the city’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Phase 1 of Chester Northgate will create a significant new destination within the heart of the city, complementing other key One City Plan investments such as the Central Business Quarter, Storyhouse and the new bus station.
Opened in autumn 2022; the scheme includes an arched arcade from the former library frontage into a new public square, an indoor market hall relocated from the Forum, a six screen cinema, cafes and restaurants, co-working office spaces and a multi-storey car park to replace the Market car park which will close once Northgate is completed.
How much will it cost?
The total cost of the Northgate scheme has been £75m, made up of:
- £65.6m for the scheme construction
- £6.4m for the city centre infrastructure build – including a new surface water drainage tunnel
What’s happening to Chester Market?
Chester Market has now begun an exciting new chapter in its history with a move to a new purpose-built market hall at the heart of the Northgate development. See more at www.newchester.market
How can Northgate be justified from an environmental and sustainability perspective?
In developing this, now approved, Northgate Phase 1 scheme we have consulted widely and received over 1,000 comments many of which have been in relation to environmental and sustainability issues, alongside ecology and archaeological considerations.
Northgate is not a new shopping centre. It will be a new a new market and leisure destination in the heart of Chester, combining open streets, parades and plazas that will integrate seamlessly with the surrounding parts of the city and build on the success of the adjacent Storyhouse cultural centre.
We have designed Northgate to be a unique development in the borough, fit for the future and adaptable to future needs. Sustainability has been at the heart of the planning and design process.
The site will be easily accessed by public transport and walking whilst the green walls will provide a ‘green lung’ in the city. The scheme will include major investment in a new city centre rainwater drain which will reduce flooding and sewage outfalls into the River Dee plus reduce energy in treating non-foul water.
Four new trees will be included in the central new public square, and there will be over 750 square metres of green walls incorporated to the car-park, cinema, market and Princess Street frontages; these will capture over 980kg of carbon annually, the equivalent of planting 38 trees.
The scheme will also include significant provision for cycle parking and the car park will benefit from extensive electric vehicle charging facilities, provide a much safer and accessible facility than the current Market car park and make use of sustainable materials.
The scheme achieved BREEAM Very Good certification of the assessment of the environmental, social and economic sustainability performance, using standards developed by the Building Research Establishment, one of the world’s leading building science centres.
Not all of Northgate is about new buildings; this first Northgate phase includes the refurbishment of the old library building to form an entrance arcade into the new public square, new offices, plus cafes and restaurants.
How are you addressing Social Value & Corporate and Social Responsibility?
The Council project team have worked closely with VINCI Construction UK (VCUK) to deliver a programme of social value and Corporate & Social Responsibility (CSR) activities throughout the duration of the Northgate Project. These can be defined the difference an organisation or project can make to the community they are operating within, and acts of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically oriented practices.
Working in partnership, we believe Social Value is about creating a positive change in someone’s life, and the value that creates whether through supporting a person, a community, a local business or improving the area they live in.
Throughout the project we have been able to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to the Chester area. We have generated new employment opportunities, supported employment of local people, reinvested construction spend to local suppliers, supported apprenticeship programmes and undertaken community activities as well as providing local people with the training they need to progress, to name a few.
See the summary report outlining some of the outputs we delivered, including 921 Apprentice weeks, 123 employment opportunities, 238 work placement weeks and 200 tonnes of sand donated to Chester Zoo!
How will carbon emissions be reduced?
When the Northgate planning approval was granted in September 2019, there were no policy requirements in place which required the development to carry out a specific carbon impact assessment. As such from a planning perspective, the necessary policy requirements have been met through the technical appendices of the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted in support of the planning applications.
That said, throughout the design process and procurement, the embodied carbon impacts have been carefully considered and have influenced the proposed design, and will influence the procurement choices during the construction period.
We have sought to reduce the carbon content of the major constituent parts, and identified that considerable reductions in embodied carbon emissions are possible, particularly with the use of materials with high recycled content and high recyclability.
We are working closely with the architect and contractor to deliver the scheme in line with the council’s commitment to sustainable development balanced against the cost implications. Where viable, we will seek to ensure the selection of materials that reduce the embodied carbon impact of the development.
Solar panels were considered as part of the car park design, however further investigation recommended siting solar PV in the Phase 2 scheme due to more viable location options. Adding a roof onto the proposed car park design for solar PV would have had a significant cost impact.
Will any materials from the former Town Hall Bus Interchange be recycled?
Yes, only a small percentage of the existing concrete and bricks from the former bus interchange have not been used in the construction of the new Northgate scheme. All the hardstanding’s from the bus station have been crushed on site and re-used to form the foundations of the new development. The top soil recovered from the site is also being used by a local supplier. A number of the old bus shelters have also been repurposed by schools, a sports club and Cheshire Fire & Rescue service.
Overall, across the whole site 99.66% of all waste has been recycled to date by the end of 2020.
Furthermore, much of the Roman red sandstone blocks recovered as part of the archaeology excavations on the site are being reused by skilled stonemasons to repair the city walls and match the existing stones used.
Is the scheme compatible with a Climate Emergency?
The Council has declared a Climate Emergency and we are actively addressing the impact of carbon and other greenhouse gases with a target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 for the Council and 2045 for the borough. Our strategy therefore takes into account all the Council does with regard to its estate and works with partners to identify strategies and initiatives at a borough-wide level. As part of this work we have established a Climate Emergency Taskforce who meet monthly. They are developing a Climate Emergency Response Plan which is due to be presented to Council in winter 2020.
This is a public forum in which residents are welcome to engage and pose questions or comments to the Taskforce. The Council has also committed financial resources to carbon reduction, with a provision of £7.5m of dedicated capital funding for this purpose over the next four years. More information on our response to the Climate Emergency is available at: https://www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/your-council/councillors-and-committees/the-climate-emergency/the-climate-emergency.aspx
Why is a new car park needed?
Although we are building a new car park, it is to replace the Market and Trinity St. car parks, (Trinity St. in Phase 2) so no net additional city centre spaces will be added as a result of Northgate. On this basis the predicted car park trips will be no greater than at present and will avoid further carbon impacts associated with traffic.
The car park will incorporate provision for electric vehicle charging to support the increase in low carbon transportation. The design of the car park has been worked through in great detail to limit the ongoing operational energy consumption and, therefore, carbon impact.
The Energy Statement submitted for planning confirms a number of the energy efficient design elements which have been included in the car park design, these include;
- Fully naturally ventilated, with open sides. This saves embodied/operational energy in providing mechanical ventilation plant in the car parking areas, which saves on embodied and future operational energy
- No heating/cooling to car park areas, fully passive space.
- Timeclock controls on lighting system, with separate timeclock for roof level lighting
- LED lighting throughout with presence detection controls in both core and car park areas, zoned and grouped to minimise energy use
- The new car park will include electric vehicle charging points from day one, and with the capacity for future expansion in charging provision, as the adoption of electric vehicles increases
- Energy efficient lift design includes ultra-efficient permanent magnet motors with VVVF drives, and controls to enter standby energy saving mode for periods of low usage
- The car park will also include nesting boxes for swifts and bats as part of the scheme.
For more information, please see the Energy Statement for the scheme submitted with the planning application for Northgate:
The Council is progressing options for a wider sustainable transport strategy, and the use of the Northgate car park will be constantly monitored to ensure it provides a viable economic asset, if this changes we would consider alternative viable options for re-use.
As previously stated, Northgate will not create a net addition of car parking, it will serve future phases of development and that any reduction in spaces that may come about from policy reviews would be in the closure of the poorer quality car parks around the city.
What is the investment rationale for Northgate?
We have worked with a wide range of development consultants to help shape the investment plans for Northgate, which have evolved over the past 20 years and their expertise has helped shape our development strategy; these include the Urban Land Institute which undertook a peer review study of Chester with experts across Europe coming together to critique Chester’s offer.
The result of this was the Chester One City Plan which provides a template for the council’s redevelopment of sites within the city.
The Council is advised by BNP Paribas on the investment value of Northgate. The analysis they provide takes into account all relevant issues that will impact the commercial value of the scheme. This includes the potential positive and negative impacts of the changing perceptions on environmental and social issues and how best to manage these risks.
In evaluating the investment criteria for Northgate, the Council has taken into consideration a wide range of factors other than a purely commercial return, thus any payback will be from a wider range of sources such as a positive economic boost for Chester, increased business rates, and Council Tax should future phases include housing.
This will be in addition to rents and income received from the scheme as part of the wider benefits that will flow to the Council once the scheme is completed.
What about wider ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investment criteria?
We believe the scheme is positive in terms of its ESG criteria – the car park is not an increase in net spaces, the outdoor public square and indoor community space in the market will help reduce social isolation, we are encouraging local entrepreneurs to run their own independent businesses championing local produce and a town centre cinema and other facilities with good public transport links will reduce driving to other attractions elsewhere such as Cheshire Oaks.
The new drainage tunnel will separate foul from rainwater and divert sewage from the river. In addition, the quality of the car park and other facilities’ user experience will exceed current standards in terms of appearance, safety, security and access.
The changing demands and perceptions accelerated by the current Covid-19 pandemic have also provided a fresh set of challenges alongside ESG. We are therefore also exploring opportunities to build in flexibility within the scheme that can be responsive to these changing demands.
So by taking a more balanced view we believe Northgate will make major improvements in this context alongside many wider economic benefits and provide a crucial catalyst for the city’s recovery from the pandemic.
Why can’t other parts of Chester be redeveloped instead?
Regarding the wider regeneration of Chester and using vacant units, this poses many challenges both in terms of ownership and viability – the Council does not own many properties – and their size, accessibility and location, make a co-ordinated regeneration scheme very complex to achieve; plus the existing owners have their own varying objectives and investment strategies.
Therefore the Council took the decision to purchase the Northgate site and create a unique cultural and leisure destination, not a new shopping centre as was proposed in earlier iterations of the scheme, from which to help ensure a diverse and thriving city centre.
The new market will champion local produce, sustainable production and build upon the already successful rejuvenation of the current award-winning market to offer excellent value and a highly valued social and community resource. This will also support our broader aspirations to create more affordable residential provision in the city centre.
How will the Northgate scheme be financed?
The Council’s approval of the scheme in November 2019 was on the basis of a future valuation of the development. However in view of the unprecedented situation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, in May 2020, the Council agreed to fund the Northgate scheme on a traditional public sector ‘payback’ basis which will ensure that the capital expenditure is written down over a period of 25 years and is factored into the Council’s annual budget.
This is a prudent approach to manage risk as it does not rely on any residual value of the asset to repay debt. This is a more judicious basis on which to proceed and given that the construction programme for the project is two years, this provides time for the economy to recover from the forecast recession as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and will will provide a major catalyst for recovery that will create jobs, boost the visitor economy and drive economic growth.
On this basis, the Council reaffirmed support for the scheme, as a critical element in the recovery of Chester from the pandemic, and a long-term investment in the cultural life of the city.
How many shops are built in to the scheme?
There are no shops planned for Phase 1 other than traders in the new market. Over the next 12 months we will do a lot of work to establish what retail in the future looks like for both the city and future phases of the Northgate development.
There appears to be a lot of risk attached to this project – was it mistake taking it on?
This is a long term investment in the city and as a local authority we have the advantage that our development plans are driven by achieving long term benefits for residents, businesses and visitors. No other developer is in a position to deliver Northgate.
This is a unique opportunity to revitalise this historic part of the city centre and improve our leisure offer for residents, businesses and visitors. It will bring jobs, support existing businesses and drive visitor numbers. Doing nothing is not an option.
We are incredibly prudent with our finances and risks are measured and reported in an open and transparent way.
We have a joint member working group which receives regular updates, takes key decisions and tracks progress, we also provide regular reports to Cabinet and Council.
Funding is only unlocked in portions when key milestones are met. If they are not met the next set of funding will not be released.
In this way even though the overall costs are significant the opportunity to review progress every step of the way means the impact on the public purse is well managed.
What about the rest of the Northgate site, such as the Forum Shopping Centre and former Gateway Theatre?
Consultations into the future uses of the site have been ongoing as part of a wider review of the One City Plan for Chester; further updates will be published once this review is completed. Alongside this, the impacts of the Covid pandemic have had far reaching implications for the future provision of retail, office space and town centres, these will all form part of the forthcoming masterplan considerations.
The future phases of the Northgate scheme, are under review by the Council. The former Forum Shopping Centre, Market and car park have now all been closed and secured, however the four retail units fronting Town Hall Square and Northgate Street continue to trade, and new leases have been agreed on all units.
The Northgate project team are currently conducting an options appraisal for the future phases. These are likely to centre around a mixed-use residential scheme involving the conversion of some existing buildings and the removal of others. To progress this, they are planning to commission a Development Framework to clarify the optimum use for the site, this will cover a range of considerations such as:
- Public realm, place making and destination.
- Land use and activity, community, and people
- Heritage and character
- Building massing and density including building heights
- Street patterns including streetscape and amenity.
- Movement, servicing, accessibility including disabled access, connectivity, and permeability.
- Phasing and flexibility.
We anticipate this work will be undertaken in the next 6-12 months and would involve stakeholder and public consultation on the plans. Once this work is completed it is likely the Council will seek to identify potential partnerships with investors and developers to progress the next stages.
Any future investment that the Council makes will need to be considered and assessed against all of the Council’s other priorities.