A FORMER councillor has questioned the focus of Chester's ambitious £300m Northgate Development.

Andrew Needham, 80, chairman of the Cheshire Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and a former Tory county councillor, believes the development, which has been mooted in various forms since 1991, is “risky”.

Last month, Cheshire West and Chester Council made a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to acquire 70 properties as part of the next phase of the development.

Mr Needham said that, in light of the council's investement in the £80, Baron's Quay development in Northwich, the project in Chester should have less emphasis on retail development.

Speaking during the public questions section of a Local Plan Working Group meeting, Mr Needham said that much of the retail space at Barons Quay had no tenants.

He added: “In view of this, the proposal for CPO of 70 properties in Chester seems risky.

“CPRE believe that the Northgate scheme should have a greater proportion of residential. More people living in the City - rather than shoppers commuting in and out.

“There is a housing crisis – but there is no shortage of shops.”

A spokesman for Cheshire West and Chester Council said that no answer was given to Mr Needham's question in the meeting.

“The allocation at Northgate for retail and leisure was made through the Local Plan (Part One) and the site now has planning permission so it wasn’t directly relevant to the agenda discussion on site allocations through the Local Plan (Part Two).”

Last month, the owners of 70 properties in the city centre were told that they would have to make way for the development.

The counciln has made a Compulsory Purchase Order on properties in Hunter Street, St Martins Way, the rear of Watergate Street and Northgate Street behind Town Hall Square.

This will allow the new mixed use retail and leisure development, which will include a 100,000 sq ft House of Fraser store, multi-screen cinema and a four-star Crowne Plaza hotel and spa, to be built.

When the CPO was announced, Councillor Brian Clarke, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure, said: “We understand that making a CPO to acquire property interests can be difficult for property owners so we have been meeting and talking with them for some time to try and get an agreement that is right for all parties.

“This is a necessary step towards delivering the new Chester Northgate. We are now closer than we have ever been before. The finish line may be in the distance but we are marching towards it.

“We are committed to creating and investing in a vibrant city. We have delivered on Storyhouse, we have delivered Frodsham Street and our residents can trust that we will deliver on Northgate too.”