MORE than 300 businessmen and women descended on Chester Cathedral last night to learn about a vision for the future of their city.
Business and council leaders took to the stage to tell city retailers of plans for the rejuvenation of Chester and how they can help shape the delivery of its recovery in the face of declining footfall.
Speakers at the ‘Our City – Our Future’ meeting, chaired by David Faulkner, president of Chester Business Club and managing director of NWN Media, included Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) leader Mike Jones, Chester Renaissance chairman Eric Langton, the Cathedral vice dean, Canon Peter Howell- Jones, and Paul Daniels, chairman of Chester BID, a new private sector group aiming to work with independent retailers to revitalise the city.
Addressing the gathered retailers, Cllr Jones spoke on the One City Plan and how the Northgate Development would “reinvigorate” Chester’s ailing city centre which, according to Experian retail rankings, has fallen from fifth to 51st in a short number of years.
“As a council we are doing our bit,” said Cllr Jones.
“We are investing heavily in the Northgate Development and the city’s cultural offering in a bid to revitalise it and boost footfall and turn Chester into a thriving retail centre once more.
“We have reasons to be excited about Chester and the private sector has a very important role to play.
“We want to be working with the likes of Cheshire Oaks and they want to work with us. They have retailers who want to be in the city and it is vital we ensure we make the city as appealing to outside investors as we can.”
Canon Howell-Jones told business leaders of the role the Cathedral had in shaping the future of the city and how it was improving its offering to both tourists and the local community.
“We are going through a massive revision of who we are,” he said. “We have massive issues and we are facing up to those and we realise we must keep up with the times. Nobody likes change but it is something we cannot avoid.
“There has been no investment into the Cathedral for 40 years until recently and we are doing what we can to try and do our bit to bring people back to the city and give them a reason to stick around.
“When you walk around areas such as the Bell Tower, it is pretty awful.
“We have plans for estate development, although we have had no full consultation yet, and we hope that the plans, such as those to develop Dean’s Field into an open space for the public to enjoy.
“Since we started offering free admission back in 2012, coupled with the new Cathedral Heights viewing platform, we have seen a 350 per cent increase in the number of people coming through our doors.”
The meeting, organised by Chester Business Club in association with bestofchester and the Cathedral, was closed by Mr Daniels, who urged gathered retailers to back the efforts to become a BID city, which would see retailers pay an annual levy to go towards marketing campaigns and efforts to drive footfall in the city centre, citing the positive impact such an approach had had on Liverpool and Manchester.
“We need to reverse the decline in our city,” said Mr Daniels.
“A Chester BID would help our city centre retailers compete with changing business models and the challenge of online shopping, helping them market themselves and be benficiaries of initiatives funded by the BID.
“Over five years, the BID fund would generate around £2.5m of funds to be ring-fenced and used exclusively to help aid retailers in the city centre, funds that will help our city thrive again.”
l It was also confirmed Chester would have its first city centre manager since 2008, with Paul Lewis, who has held similar roles in Liverpool and Manchester, taking the reins from next week in a role funded through the BID group.
See full story in the Chester Leader