THE council leader has launched a stinging attack on cynics who doubt the future of Chester’s long-awaited Northgate retail and leisure scheme.
Cllr Samantha Dixon warned that “dissenters” were having a “corrosive effect” on public confidence in the £300 million development.
She spoke out at a full council meeting of Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) last week.
Members of the ruling Labour administration and Conservative opposition group were united in their support for the project, which has been 30 years in the making.
They voted unanimously to free up a further £13.2m of public funds to ensure the scheme is financed “to completion”.
The move was necessary as, to date, no third-party investor has come forward to fund the project through its construction phase.
It brings the council’s total stake to almost £57m, which includes £21.65m in design costs and preparatory work and £22m on acquiring the Forum offices, which sit on the proposed Northgate site in the city centre.
Former Tory councillor Andrew Needham had previously raised concerns about the council’s spending priorities, stating that housing was a far more pressing issue than retail.
And at a meeting last year when planning permission was granted, businessman Marcus Johnson described Northgate as a “looming nightmare of outlandish proportions; a cataclysmic error.”
But at Thursday’s full council meeting, Cllr Dixon hit back saying: “Because of its long history there is cynicism among a small number of dissenters which has a corrosive effect on confidence and which serves our borough ill.”
She also warned about political rows over the Northgate scheme and praised the former Conservative administration for its work getting it off the ground.
“Potential investors are put off by by squabbling between political parties,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Cllr Stuart Parker, who played a major role in the project under the former administration, stressed that the council’s partners maintained the scheme was viable.
“Strutt & Parker, our funding agents, are receiving positive levels of interest from a number of top-level financial investment companies,” he added.
The Northgate development is expected to be worth £300m making it a significant investment for the council.
Major anchors for the project have already been secured in the shape of a House of Fraser department store, a Picturehouse six-screen cinema and a new Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The first phase of construction is due to start next year, opening at the end of 2019. Phase two begins later in 2018 with the whole development opening late 2020 or early 2021.
Once complete, it will also boast a new indoor market, restaurant hub in the former library and 120 new homes.
See full story in the Chester Leader