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ACME’s Chester project under review as House of Fraser pulls out

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The future of an ACME-designed retail development in Chester is under review after its flagship store House of Fraser pulled out of the project

The retailer was planned as the ‘showpiece’ store for the £300 million Northgate plan to regenerate the historic city centre, but announced yesterday it would be abandoning the scheme.

The withdrawal forms part of a rescue deal for House of Fraser which includes the closure of 31 of its 59 stores across the country.

Backed by Chester West and Chester Council, ACME’s designs for the first phase of the 5.6ha shopping quarter include a six-screen cinema, housing, a market hall to replace the existing market, a hotel and restaurants. 

The second phase of development was due to create 37,200m² of shops, including an ‘anchor’ department store to be occupied by House of Fraser.

The retailer’s withdrawal is another blow for the struggling project, which was supposed to start on site in 2017 but has been hit with delays, including concerns over a lack of outside investment.

Council leaders said they remained committed to the Northgate project but would now be reconsidering its retail element.

Council leader Samantha Dixon said: ‘It is obviously disappointing that House of Fraser’s financial problems have led to one of our tenants to change their decision to be part of the Chester Northgate scheme.

‘We will continue to keep the mix and phasing of the scheme under review and continue to engage with interested parties as we have done all along.’

The Chester Northgate scheme was first put forward as early as 2000, with initial proposals drawn up by architects Hopkins and Chapman Taylor for ING Real Estate Developers.

These proposals were later abandoned, with ACME’s new plans for the city centre handed planning approval in 2016.

Work was expected to start on site the following year, but the first phase remains on hold while the council awaits a public inquiry decision on whether it can use a compulsory purchase order to acquire 70 plots within the regeneration area.

Earlier this year, critics of the development, including Tim Kenney, partner of Chester-based property agent Kenneymoore wrote to the council expressing ’fears over its viability’. 

ACME was approached for comment.  

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