SAFETY concerns at a proposed Chester car park leisure hub are to be raised in a crunch meeting next week.

In September this year, Cheshire West and Chester Council's planning committee unanimously gave the go-ahead to plans for the top two decks of the Pepper Street car park in Chester city centre into a new venue which could feature a range of attractions from silent cinemas, craft fairs, yoga and food and drink stalls.

Its planned opening hours will be 8am-10pm for a maximum capacity of 300 people. A total of 20 full-time and 30 part-time jobs will also be created according to the applicant.

The application – submitted by Grosvenor and iKO Events Ltd – had concerns raised over noise and loss of parking, with a total of 20 objections received from the public, including from the Almhouses of William Jones Charity and the Bridgegate East Residents Association (BERA). A petition signed by 209 people opposing the scheme was also submitted.

The application was initially made to cover a period five years, but planning officers reduced that to three to monitor the development in light of the received objections. Proposed opening hours changed from an original 11pm finish to 10pm, which iKO has said would make it one of the earliest city centre hospitality venues to close for the day.

Although the bid was unanimously backed by the committee, gathered objectors were told the scheme would still have to go through a licensing process where some of the other issues raised would be discussed.

Those issues will be discussed by councillors next week in a licensing meeting.

Safety concerns had been raised by Cheshire Fire Authority, which include the "inadequate" fire escape routes provided, a lack of emergency lighting, and concerns the fire alarm and detection system in place may not be suitable for the new venue.

Those issues have been echoed by BERA, whose residents live in the area of the proposed leisure hub and have objected to the licensing application.

Group chairman Bill Grady OBE said the fire authority's concerns were not discussed at the planning meeting, "on the basis that they were a matter for the licensing committee alone", meaning "councillors then voted to approve a plan which the fire service has already deemed unsafe".

Citing other public safety matters, he added: "Access to the upper floors is poor and the stairs may well prove to be a safety hazard for those who have been drinking alcohol.

"The lift lacks the capacity or speed to service the car park and the new facility. If 300 people are all attempting to leave the facility at the same time, at the end of an event, once on the stairway, there is, and can be, nothing to stop them entering the car parking areas and exiting down the car ramps or via the alternative stairway to Volunteer Street.

"This is not only dangerous to customers but will also impact on those using the car park."

Mr Grady added: "BERA cares passionately about preserving Chester’s heritage. This scheme is an unnecessary venture into a conservation area, a residential hub, overlooking the most popular of tourist trails, within likely earshot of the City Walls and other jewels in Chester’s crown but with the potential, at least, to cause much greater noise nuisance, almost certain with such a close gathering of 300 visitors."

Speaking at the time of the planning meeting, Ian Gordon of iKO told members: “The Grosvenor team have listened to, and acted upon, the advice and evidence of industry experts to ensure all aspects of both the project and the building are fully safe and compliant, especially from a structural and fire safety perspective.”

He added that the planned acoustic barrier size and length at the development had been increased to further mitigate against noise disruption.

He told members: "It is not a nightclub, it is not another bar, it's not even late night. What it is, is a social hub, a meeting place, a community space; somewhere for friends, family, colleagues, anyone to get together, socialise and relax.

"We want to appeal to everybody at different times throughout the day and their week."

CWaC's Licensing Act (Hearings) Sub-Committee will meet on Tuesday, November 21 in Ellesmere Port to discuss the licensing application.

Its options will be to approve the premises licence with relevant conditions, exclude any of the licensable activities included in the application, or to reject it.