We attended the town hall last Thursday evening , inside the Palatine room we were greeted by a display of large touch screens covering timelines from 2012 right up to the distant future of 2027.. “One city plan” is the plan to “reinvigorate the city” and build on the “mosaic of opportunities” making the most of the past and embracing the future/driving investment. All of the detail of proposed schemes covering the entire city was shown on the touch screens as well as in a no doubt expensive to produce 96 page glossy brochure. The entire plan is available at http://www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/microsites/chester_renaissance/a_changing_city/one_city_plan.aspx
The details of the plan struck a chord with me, dating back to the origin of the account and the massive frustration of Chester life felt by so many.. and the weird sense of the city being out of sync and full of unrealised potential. These are the things we’ve been tweeting about for years, why is there no cinema, why cant we have a theatre, why cant we make more of our Roman heritage.. the ugly abandoned shell of Dee House atop the amphitheatre… The general lack of information about what is actually going on… at times no one seems to know.. currently the completion date for the Eastgate clock ranges from July- September depending on who you listen to. Looking at the timelines a lot of it seemed like management speak to me. Sentences like this re Northgate Street: “ animation of the area utilising the streets, alleyways and courtyards will further help to build character” How though mate ? Similarly “ a major invesment in the Grosvenor Museum will secure its position as the flagship museum..” With a lot of it I wondered where the money would come from.. An expanded Racecourse conference facility is another proposal envisaged –with space for up to 1200 delegates, hosting exhibitions and popular music… they could even bring back Chester Rocks?
Some of the “achieved” parts of the plan amounted to essentially “we’re going to have a think about this for five years.” For example development of the neglected and tragically wasted castle area is on the agenda.. but no details on how this will actually happen. A lot of stuff achieved in the early stages are talks and proposals, forming ideas and deciding what the powers that be will do.. in five or ten years time. By 2027 for example we can look forward to a public sqaure in the Kaleyards ( remember when it was proposed to move the market there?) At some point the hydro electric power station on the Dee opposite Handbridge will be revived.
Also confusing for the layman was the number of diferent organisations involved.. Renew, Chester renaissance, the council, Active Cheshire etc.. it was not clear to me who was actually leading this and tying the long term vision together.
But its not all doom and gloom by any means.. this is a list and theres probably more of some of the good stuff I’ve observed over the last few years in terms of regeneration and growth… The grosvenor park revamp, the forthcoming dining quarter, the multi million Grosvenor centre redevelopment, short term investment in the doomed Forum.. the Cathedral doing more than ever, with the At Height experience and the new Falconry centre… The Waitrose development.. frequent shop openings from Wayne Walker meats to Holland and Barrets flagship store…plus you can add a massive sense of community support and interaction with political leaders which has been fostered by social media. Two of the major soon-to- be -success stories are the new theatre and the business quarter:
We spoke at length to the man from Kier construction about the giant crane, currently being used to install the steel frame of the building and lift materials. The steel frame should be in place by the end of June and the theatre is scheduled for completion late autumn 2016. As yet unnamed it is unclear if the bat signal style lit up “CHESTER” signage will grace the skyline in the same way as the iconic ODEON sign used to. The building will house the new library , a 100 seat boutique cinema and a coffee bar serving into the twilight hours with “superfast wi fi”. The main theatre will have 800 seats with the stage moving to reduce the seating capacity to 500 for events as required and to create a more intimate theatrical space.
“if you want to do something in Chester then there are things to do , but if you wanted to do a big show… hopefully this will be a magnet. This is big.. the Everyman in Liverpool is smaller than this” said the man from Kier. Chester RENEW told us that the main theatre will be a “middle to large scale venue” and be able to attract a range of touring shows which would change weekly. It will be run by Chester performs who will also produce material in house as well as continuing the successful run of productions in the park. A smaller studio theatre with 150 seats is envisaged as having numerous uses including smaller scale touring shows , and may be open for community/amateur use. The theatre is step 1 in the long delayed Northgate development.. the bus station moving to Gorse stacks is the next stage, being scheduled to open in winter 2016-17 after work starts this summer. Everything changes. Once the bus station moves, work can begin on the next part of the development and so on
Chris Capes of Chester Renaissance told us about “Chester central” the new business quarter. Here we can see tangible evidence of work being done. This development has been 4 years in the making and due for completion in November . We saw a hugely impressive and detailed CGI recreation, no doubt expensive.. even including the shadows of birds passing over the skyline on a summers day
The full proposed quarter runs from station to the Waitrose development. Chester central will provide 70,000 square ft of grade A office space . As future phases are added the area will form an attractive public space (if it all happens)
“Whats the transport strategy?” I asked an officer of cwac.
“Its all online! “ he joked
“theres loads going on .. but it takes a bit of time”
Overall I was impressed. The fact that the session took place at all was great, despite a relatively poor turnout and lack of promotion, there needs to be more sessions like this and more engagement with the public. Theres obviously a long way to go , but I left the session feeling cautiously optimistic. There are plenty of ideas out there, and although they might not all happen it can only be a positive thing.
With thanks to Liz of the Chester tourist guides , Jamie Hall and Mark Carline