Picturehouse is to be the operator of the new six-screen cinema within the long delayed Northgate development following exchange of a lease agreement with Cheshire West and Chester Council. The new cinema will sit adjacent to Storyhouse and will be situated on land at the rear of the current bus station.
Formed in 1989 as an alternative the multiplex model, Picturehouse Cinemas own and operate 23 cinemas and programme a further 45 venues across the UK – in places such as Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Oxford and York, with the Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton being Britain’s longest continually operating cinema, having first opened in 1910.
Picturehouse Cinemas seek to set themselves apart from their main multiplex competitors by incorporating café bars, restaurants and live events alongside traditional movie-going. The company pioneered live satellite cine-casts showing events from around the world and is now a leading UK distributor of event cinema content, including plays from Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Opera House, National Theatre, Kenneth Branagh Live and many more.
Picturehouse Managing Director, Lyn Goleby, said: “We have wanted to operate a cinema in Chester for many years and this location in the heart of the city will give us a very central location to create a vibrant hub of film-related activity. Our programme will cover mainstream and world cinema and a wide range of cultural content. We very much look forward to opening and hope that Picturehouse will make a big contribution to the life of the city centre.”
Councillor Brian Clarke, Cabinet Member, Economic Development and Infrastructure said: “Picturehouse stood out from the competition because of its sheer enthusiasm for running a cinema in Chester and the programming offer it proposed. I’m looking forward to welcoming them to the city, they will form a major part of the exciting Northgate development.” At todays press conference he added, “not a lot of people know this but in 1961 I started in the cinema business in Manchester ! I am over the moon that we have a company like Picturehouse. I can’t wait for it to open!”
Councillor Stuart Parker, Shadow Cabinet Member, Communities and Wellbeing said: “Chester has waited a long time for the return of a cinema to the city centre. I’d also like to welcome Picturehouse, they will be adding another fantastic attraction for both residents and visitors. We’re all aware that the cinema is part of the Northgate development and the first phase of that is the new cultural centre. A cinema is key to it all, as everybody had always said “what we lack in Chester is a theatre and a cinema”. He stressed that the 100 screen cinema in Storyhouse was never intended to be the city’s main cinema. “Picturehouse is a great success story. Its more of a destination , than just paying your money sitting down and watching James Bond..”
The six-screen cinema will provide more than 715 seats, on the upper levels of the scheme, with a ground-level foyer and café bar opening onto the new Market Square and Hunter Street. A 40 seat cinema will be available for private hire.
Complementary to the new cultural centre, Storyhouse – comprising an 850-seat theatre, library and 100-seat arts cinema – Picturehouse will help to deliver a “high-quality leisure offer along with the surrounding cafés, bars and restaurants”.
David Lewis of Rivington Land, development manager for Chester Northgate, said: “Securing Picturehouse as the leisure anchor represents an important milestone in the delivery of Chester Northgate. The quality of their operation will raise the bar of the leisure offer in the city. The level of interest shown from the cinema market and now subsequently by the food and beverage operators shows what confidence occupiers have in Chester as a strong trading location. Significant and tangible progress on the delivery of this scheme is building nicely in a market place bereft of many new high-quality, retail-led developments.”
There were 7 formal bids to operate the cinema, which was later short listed to 3. He described the news as a “major kickstart” to the Northgate development. Describing Picturehouse’s offer he said that “it will be completely broad” offering mainstream and art house films and attractive to all of the community.
“Despite the fact that serving the catchment you have two massive cinemas (Broughton and Cheshire Oaks) what the research showed was that there was a really strong demand for a city centre cinema. The fact that there wasn’t one was a big bone of contention for some people” . A new 850 space carpark will be part of the development and will serve the area alongside the recently opened Delamere st car park. The developers stressed that the parking strategy was still in progress, but plans were in place to mark parking competive as compared to Cheshire Oaks.
“What we have over Cheshire Oaks is that Chester is a destination in its own right” Added Cllr Parker. “When people come they can make a day of it. They can visit other things within walking distance. You arrive at Broughton, you park your car, you go shopping and you go the cinema It’s not got the same atmosphere as Chester”. The student population, which has vastly grown since the Odeon closed in 2007 could also be a target market for the new cinema.
The developers also commented that a potential new Roman based attraction or visitor centre was being looked at by a separate team in the council. The Northgate development could potentially house this attraction. The Roman strong room will benefit from improved access and other options for heritage interaction are being considered.
The theatre/market element of the Northgate development is going before planning on the 15th September. The plans including the investment and delivery strategy are expected to be delivered to full council by the end of the year. Construction would be expected to be completed by 2019.