A PUBLIC inquiry into aspects of the £300 million Chester Northgate retail development has ended at least a week before scheduled.
Headed by government planning inspector Neil Pope, it was set up to focus on the compulsory purchase orders (CPO) necessary to advance the scheme to the construction phase.
It also intended to look at issues surrounding the relocation of the city market and necessary highway diversions.
On the first day of the inquiry last Wednesday (February 7) it emerged that 12 objections had been lodged against the CPOs and 16 in relation to the market relocation.
However, barrister Timothy Corner QC, representing Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC), said discussions were still ongoing to resolve these issues.
Today the inquiry’s programme officer, Helen Wilson, told the Standard that the majority of objectors had either withdrawn their objections or decided not to make representations at the hearing.
Sainsbury’s, which leases a building in the CPO firing line on Watergate Street, had not withdrawn its objection but decided not to appear at the inquiry. Another company, Daytona Ltd, had withdrawn its objection.
Mrs Wilson said there was a possibility that the inquiry would reconvene on Tuesday (February 20) to hear representations from the final objector, Atmore Group.
CWaC is seeking CPOs on a total of 70 properties on the site of the Northgate scheme and has so far secured 85 per cent.
No one from Chester Market chose to speak at the inquiry, although Mrs Wilson said that did not mean objections had been withdrawn.
“We could have something on Tuesday but if not the inspector will write to the council to formally close the inquiry,” she added.
Originally scheduled for two weeks, with the possibility of a third, the public inquiry looks to be wrapped up in less than a week.
Mrs Wilson, who is impartial and works under the direction of the inspector, said this was not uncommon as objectors often choose not to appear at the last minute.
In his opening speech to the inquiry last week, Mr Corner outlined the benefits of making the Northgate scheme a reality, namely the huge economic, social and environmental impact it would have.
It was needed to address a decline in retail performance in the city centre and would act as a “catalyst for investment”, led by the public sector.
“The council's motivation is that it will deliver the economic regeneration and future sustainability of the city of Chester,” Mr Corner told the inquiry.
The 5.8 hectare site was currently blighted by “outdated and low quality post-war buildings”, he said, while the new development would be of the “highest architectural quality” that “integrates seamlessly” into the city centre.
So far the council has shouldered the entire cost of funding the scheme through its construction phase, to the tune of around £57m.
But Mr Corner said it was expected that private sector investment would arrive once the building work started. He also said there were “detailed discussions” taking place with other high street names.
Addressing the issue of the market, he stressed that the poor location and trading mix of the existing indoor venue meant it continued to struggle.
The new market, housed prominently beneath the new cinema, would offer greatly improved visibility and profile, as well as “inviting entrances”.
It would also be open six days a week and into the evening, giving traders much more flexibility.
The planning inspector will publish his findings on the Government's website at a later date.
The first phase of construction on Northgate is due to start this 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, Picturehouse cinema, House of Fraser department store, new Crowne Plaza Hotel and 120 new homes.