Location: Chester, United Kingdom
Sponsoring Organisations: The Grosvenor Estate; The University of Chester; Bank of America; Cheshire West and Chester; Visit Chester and Cheshire; Chester Renaissance; and Chester Race Company Ltd
Chair: James M. DeFrancia
Subject Area: Economic Growth and Development
The Panel’s Assignment
Chester is situated on the River Dee in the rural county of Cheshire in the North West of England. It is close to the Welsh border and less than an hour from the cities of Greater Manchester and Liverpool. Manchester is the largest media hub outside of London and home to the UK’s biggest single-site academic campus, and Liverpool is home to one of Europe’s largest bio manufacturing clusters and one of the world’s most famous waterfronts.
Chester has long been recognized as the ‘jewel in the crown of the North West of England’ thanks to its Roman heritage and many assets including the racecourse, zoo, cathedral and historic centre. However, there are concerns that Chester has ‘rested on its laurels’ as other cities in the region (Manchester, Liverpool) have been regenerated and reinvented themselves. Further competition comes from out-of-town retail outlets such as Cheshire Oaks. Chester has fallen fast in the Experian UK Retail Rankings from a high of 5th in 2002 to 35th in 2009. This decline actually started in the boom years so cannot be entirely attributed to the recession.
Despite the many strengths and assets Chester holds it is facing serious challenges with forecasts of rising unemployment, static retail rents, weak road infrastructure and some historic areas such as the city walls in poor repair and not best positioned to benefit fully from tourism.
In addition, Chester suffers from a “night-time economy” narrowly focused on pubs and nightclubs with a notable shortage of cultural activities. The new unitary authority and Chester Renaissance are attempting to address much of this but given the current economic environment, remain challenged by limited budgets. There is no shortage of people or groups wanting to grow Chester as a successful city but they lack a consistent goal or galvanising vision and in some cases these groups may (unwittingly) work against one another.
Whilst a number of initiatives across the city have been undertaken to address the challenges described above these have largely been delivered through a piecemeal approach without forming part of an overarching strategy for addressing and prioritising the major issues and may only serve to ‘paper over the cracks’. The opportunity exists to develop a fully co-ordinated and integrated approach to drive economic success.
The Strategic Development Framework ‘One City Plan’ recently commissioned by the Council and its partners will be instrumental in delivering this. However the key challenge will be to develop a strategy which will unite the plethora of groups and organisations across the city behind a single vision to improve Chester’s position as a leading economic and cultural city.
A group of key stakeholders including Chester Renaissance have agreed that there is a need for a fresh, impartial view of Chester’s situation and strategy for the future and that a ULI Advisory Services Panel presents a great opportunity to take a “big-picture look” at Chester’s challenges and potential opportunities. Chester Renaissance was particularly keen to get an international perspective from the expert panel and hope to hear some new ideas.
The panel commend Chester Renaissance and the unitary authority, Cheshire West and Chester, for their openness and willingness to engage throughout the process.