TAXPAYERS will have to foot a £5m ‘start-up’ bill to get Chester’s ambitious Northgate Development off the ground.
The cash is needed to ensure architects fees and other costs are covered so that Cheshire West and Chester Council is in a position to approach private investors.
The figure was revealed to members of the public at a meeting of the City Community Forum this week.
The highly-anticipated Northgate Development will see new shops, restaurants and cafes built around the site of the current bus interchange in the city centre.
It will also include an eight-screen cinema and replacement market near a proposed theatre and library.
Project manager David Anderson told the meeting the 'up front' cash is vital to kick-start the scheme, and attract investors with “deep pockets”.
He said: “£5m has been committed to put us in a position to promote the scheme to the investment market.”
It is estimated the development will create 1,600 new jobs, as well as more than 200 construction roles, and be worth millions to the city's economy.
Supporters say it is vital to ensure Chester climbs back up the UK retail rankings and does not simply become a “market town” with shoppers relying on out-of-town facilities.
Once ranked as the fifth best shopping destination in the UK, the city has slumped down the rankings over the last decade and now ranks 59th – below Crawley, Doncaster and Tunbridge Wells.
Mr Anderson said: “This is all about creating a destination to encourage people to stay longer and enjoy their leisure time.”
He also reminded people that a project to move the bus interchange to Gorse Stacks must also be started soon for work to begin on the Northgate scheme.
Kevin Riley, of engineering and development consultants Mott MacDonald, which is behind the £10m bus interchange scheme, outlined plans to the public during the meeting.
The proposed scheme, which has reportedly been broadly backed by national and local bus operators, will see a ‘one-way’ bus depot built - so buses do not need to reverse - with a green, grassy roof to blend in with Chester's leafy skyline.
Several people raised concerns about access from the new depot to the city centre for elderly or disabled people, but Mr Riley assured them options were being looked at, including the use of shuttle buses.
The bus station plans were also discussed at a separate consultation meeting this week, during which some residents complained that the move would generate more pollution.