WE know Chester was founded by the Romans – there are remains of an amphitheatre to remind us – and the famous walls that still surround the city were rebuilt during its prosperous medieval period.
It had a booming shipbuilding industry on the River Dee and its 18th-century shot tower provided lead shot for the Napoleonic Wars.
No wonder it pulls in the tourists. It even has a full-time town crier. But the past decade has seen Cheshire’s county town fall from the UK’s 27th most popular shopping destination in 2006 to 66th place in 2014 and during the recession house building more or less ground to a halt.
That’s all about to change, thanks to Chester West and Chester Council’s master plan to renew a key quarter within the city with £300million retail and leisure facility Chester Northgate, to include a new six-screen cinema plus markets and restaurants in the existing Chester Library building.
The library is moving to the equally exciting £37million Storyhouse cultural centre, opening this summer with a new theatre and cinema in a refurbished Art Deco picture house.
The nice thing about the site is that there is something for everyone
Simon Broster – Whitecroft development manager
Even the old lead shot tower is getting in on the act, with developers Whitecroft refurbishing the former lead works buildings to create 65 apartments within the historic sections and contemporary wings that will connect to the tower.
The Shot Tower, five minutes from Chester railway station – and links to London, Manchester and Liverpool – and within walking distance of the city centre, will have views of the adjacent Shropshire Union Canal and a heritage centre at the base of the tower.
The £15million project will transform what has been a derelict site since the lead company relocated in 2001 and comes after the listed buildings passed through several developers’ hands before and during the recession.
“We acquired it with planning permission in place and it has taken a developer with a bit of vision and local knowledge to bring that forward,” says Whitecroft development manager Simon Broster, who lives nearby.
Over a bridge across the canal is Chester’s new flagship Waitrose store, with a bronze metal cladding design that won awards for Broadway Malyan – the same company that has designed the two zinc-clad new wings of The Shot Tower development.
“The nice thing about the site is that there is something for everyone,” says Broster.
“Duplex units are attracting downsizers and the proximity to Liverpool and Manchester is generating interest from young professionals.
“It’s a mix of very modern and refurbished units that offer loft-style living with exposed brickwork and the new buildings being zinc-clad gives it a very contemporary look, which is not something you see that often in Chester.”
The duplexes and one, two and three-bedroom apartments are in the old industrial part of town just minutes from the new business quarter centred around offices at One City Place.
“It is just starting to define the new part of the city and that is the nice thing about the development: it is at the forefront of the business quarter,” says Broster.
One-bedroom apartments are on sale from £150,000 with Savills (016 1244 7705; savills.co.uk) and even though the development won’t be completed until 2018 Jamie Adam, head of residential development sales in Manchester, says: “The interest in The Shot Tower is typical of the market in general.
“There has been a slight predominance in downsizers, people in their late 50s and early 60s who are looking for a lifestyle change and a bit more flexibility.
“We have also agreed terms with people moving back from overseas but equally we have seen first-time buyers and Help To Buy will be available.
“From a buyers’ perspective Chester’s got the charm of a county town, the facilities of a larger town and character in abundance.
“The race course is an added attraction for a lot of people as well!”