ACME has warned Cheshire West & Chester Council against ‘value engineering’ a retail-led regeneration after the authority decided not to retain the practice on its £300 million town-centre project
The London-based practice’s masterplan won approval in 2016 but the council was forced into a rethink when its anchor tenant, retailer House of Fraser, pulled out of the scheme earlier this year.
Despite the setback, the council is pushing ahead with the first phase of plans after the government greenlit its bid to secure the remaining land through compulsory purchase order.
But it has not retained the design team, comprised of ACME with Hawkins\Brown, dMKF and Leslie Jones which were appointed on Chester Northgate up to Stage 3.
Instead, the council’s contractor Vinci is understood to have selected AHR as the delivery architect for the £60 million first phase of the scheme, which includes a market, six-screen cinema, restaurants, a public square and car parking.
ACME director Friedrich Ludewig said that following the withdrawal of House of Fraser, work ‘came to a halt’ on the Northgate masterplan, and the practice proposed to ‘refocus’ the plan to remove all large-format retail.
He said he had cautioned the council that the time for ‘retail-led regeneration’ had passed.
‘We don’t think there is any point in reacting to the ongoing decline in retail by value-engineering a retail-led masterplan,’ he said. ‘We hope the route the council is pursuing now does not lead to the site remaining empty for another 10 years. Chester deserves progress on the wider Northgate site.’
Ludewig added the firm was ‘happy’ that the council had decided to proceed with parts of the Market phase of the scheme as it would allow ‘for the release of previously deferred fees to the wider design team’.
Cheshire West & Chester Council’s economic development chief Brian Clarke said the plan it was now pursuing was mixed-use rather than retail led. He added that the authority had ‘worked closely’ with ACME to make its Northgate vision ‘a reality’.
‘Many of the design principles that were developed by ACME will be incorporated into the development – a project that will see us revitalise a quarter of Chester’s historic centre.
‘We have been clear that our plan for Northgate is that of a mixed-use development, rather than being retail-led. Phase 1 of the project, valued at £60 million, includes a new relocated dynamic and modern market, six-screen cinema, restaurants, public square and car parking.’
ACME was appointed to the project in 2013 and drew up a scheme replacing abandoned proposals drawn up by architects Hopkins and Chapman Taylor for ING Real Estate Developers.
A council spokesperson could not confirm which architect had been appointed on the project. AHR declined to comment.
Work on phase 1 of the scheme is expected to begin on the site by the end of next year. In late October this year, the council signed off an additional £6 million to deliver a revised planning application for this first phase.