Geoff Hope-Terry, Chair of the Weaver Valley Partnership, has reported on the results of the Public Engagement Exercise that he led on behalf of his Board and Cheshire West and Chester on the proposals for Barons Quay. Geoff thanked everyone for the feedback received. He said, “This is part of a whole-town approach for Northwich and has to be viewed in that light. Separate schemes are coming forward to develop other parts of the river frontages, ease the traffic burdens and improve the look and feel of the town. However, the ambition behind the Development Framework is to enhance the existing town centre by bringing in much needed new shops, whilst also opening up the waterfront and providing new leisure facilities.”
He added that the scheme had to be financially viable and deliverable, otherwise residents would feel let down by empty promises. “There’s a lot of cynicism around,” said Geoff, “Which is understandable in view of the history, but we’re determined that this time things will be different.”
Turning to the responses, Geoff said, “The quality was very high. Points were generally made clearly, with solid reasoning, which is extremely helpful when taking them into account in the detailed design stage.” Some respondents supported the proposals, some were against and some suggested alternatives, but Geoff reckons one thing everyone agrees on is, “doing nothing is not an option if we’re going to ensure Northwich’s future vitality.”
The responses can be grouped under five main themes, although there were also some one-off points. Geoff went through them, starting with the most controversial. “The biggest new store will be a supermarket,” he said, “and some people are worried about its impact. I understand their concerns, but an independent study shows there is a large, unmet, potential for additional food shopping in Northwich. This means if we don’t provide it in the town, someone may open a store on the edge, or out of, the town centre which would be more harmful to the town’s viability.”
Geoff pointed to comments made by Mary Portas, the Government’s retail guru, who wants to get supermarkets back into town centres, for that very same reason. “A key feature of the scheme will be to encourage shoppers to spend time in the rest of Northwich; not just stay in one store. We’ll achieve this by providing additional, larger, shop units to attract new brands into the town, with retail loops and open squares to steer people into the existing centre.”
Geoff doesn’t see this as taking away current trade; rather it’s about bringing in many more people, to everyone’s benefit. “The town’s independent shops are a major strength and I want to give them the opportunity to improve their business, not harm it,” he said.
Next, the recreation and leisure proposals, which include a cinema. “These have been positively received, particularly the improvements to the river frontage, boating provision along Weaver Way and connections into Carey Park. Once again, there have been helpful comments,” said Geoff, “but the important thing to be aware of is that the development gain from the supermarket will be used to cross subsidise the cinema building. Otherwise, we can’t afford it.”
Transport and accessibility received a number of comments. Detailed work at the next stage will address highway issues and the forthcoming experimental gyratory based on Town Bridge and Hayhurst Bridge should improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
Then there was design quality. Geoff explained, “The Development Framework is only intended to be an outline draft and detailed issues such as the relationship with existing buildings, size, materials, etc will be addressed as the scheme progresses. The town benefits from many attractive building and the point has been made that design standards must complement the existing character. I fully endorse that view.”
The final theme relates to the need for a residential element to the scheme. Geoff agrees that this must be a key component, not just for Barons Quay, but for the wider redevelopment of the town centre. “The team in Cheshire West” he said, “are exploring how new housing can be brought forward alongside these current proposals.”
In summing up, Geoff said, “The next step is to appoint a design team that can move the framework to a detailed, viable, scheme. There will definitely be some changes as a result of the engagement and, in particular, we will re-look at the size of the food store. We’re aiming to apply for planning permission in summer or autumn next year and there will be lots more opportunity for local residents to contribute throughout the process.”
Geoff’s final comment was, “I believe Barons Quay will act as a regeneration springboard for the whole of the town but, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. This is why I welcome the fact that the Town Council have decided to produce their own plan for Northwich, and I will be very happy to work with them as they develop it”.
Councillor Herbert Manley, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Executive Member for Prosperity, said: “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us know their views on the proposed redevelopment of Barons Quay.
“The people of Northwich have waited a long time for the regeneration of their town. Through this consultation we were able to show the local community how strongly the Council and the Weaver Valley Partnership believe in Northwich and its potential to re-position itself as a town of regional importance.
“We received some extremely interesting and varied feedback, and I can assure all those who took part that their views will be considered as we embark upon the next stage of this exciting development.”