Building a bright future for Chester

PUBLISHED: 10:07 17 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013

Building a bright future for Chester

Building a bright future for Chester

A masterplan for Chester aims to create a world class city, as Patrick O'Neill reports<br/>Photography by John Cocks

York has its Vikings, Edinburgh its festivals and Canterbury, its pilgrims. Now Roman Chester is preparing for a golden future as a world class destination by 2026.

The city lost some of its priceless sparkle in the face of fierce competition from other historic cities - and the retail successes of neighbouring giants, Liverpool and Manchester. But the exciting One City Plan being created, is designed to restore the city of the legions to Mecca status for international visitors whether their interest be history, culture or quality shopping.

Steve Robinson, the chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: Chester has been at a standstill for well over a decade and while we are living in difficult times financially, we must deliver now if the city is to enjoy a bright future.

The council has its own ambitious development plans like the Cathedral and Business Quarters, a state-of-the-art theatre, investment in the city walls and amphitheatre and an extensive cultural development programme. But recently, the internationally renowned cities think tank, Urban Land Institute, staged its first study of a UK city to provide an independent view of the future direction for Chester.

The ULI felt that Chesters future is intrinsically linked to its proud heritage - but only if we are unafraid to look forward, embrace change and be the best in class at everything we do, Steve added.

That ranges from quality heritage and culture to shopping and commercial development, its a tall order - but one that we fully intend to meet.

Chester boasts Britains biggest Roman amphitheatre. They named their fortress Deva after the Celtic Goddess of the River Dee. They sailed their ships upriver to dock below the fortress, where the remains of Roman Quay can still be seen. A shrine to their goddess Minerva stands close to the Old Dee Bridge. And even today a modern Roman Soldier will guide you to the very spot where gladiators fought and died beneath the shrine of their goddess, Nemesis.

But there is much more to Chester than a legion of Romans. By 2026 Chesters new masterplan will complete massive investment in the amphitheatre, city walls, Roman gardens, and cathedral to maximise their economic power and protect them for future generations. And there has even been talk of creating a boutique hotel on the citys famous Rows.

One thing we all agree is that we have a city of immense potential, said Herbert Manley, Chester executive council member for prosperity.

A 50-page document following the study by the Urban Land Institute, outlines ten big ideas to help the city retain its status in the tourist market, including the redevelopment of Chester Castle as a hotel, arts centre and exhibition space, and development of the River Dee banks.

Other big ideas include a theatre, an extension to Chester Zoo, a Chester History Experience Centre involving the Roman Amphitheatre and digging under Dee House to expose additional Roman remains.

Professor Tim Wheeler, vice chancellor of the University of Chester, added: The message is clear. Now is the time for everyone to work together to build a successful future for the city.

And theyll be hoping for success when they line up at Chester Racecourse for the Cheshire Life Stakes on September 10th. Thats just one of the special events planned at the course this year - Ladies Day will be held on May 5th, with a further Ladies Evening on June 24th. Advice to the best-dressed lady comes from Mel Simm sponsorship manager: You need glamour and elegance and never have a perfectly matching handbag.

They know a thing or two about elegance at the Hammond School - a national centre of excellence for drama, music and dance. And it was that reputation which lured Russian maestro Irek Mukhamedov to Chester to give students a masterclasses. Irek began his career at the Bolshoi Ballet where he was the youngest man ever to dance the leading role of Spartacus.

Chesters One City Plan aims to make the city a world class destination but there are already strong foundations to build on. The city already attracts more than 20 million visitors a year and many of them are shown around by Steve Kirkham, one of 43 tour guides.

Steve said: We meet people from all over the world and get asked all sorts of questions. Most German visitors ask: Did we damage Chester Cathedral in the war?

For the record, the answer is yes. The West Window was hit by an incendiary bomb. It was a lucky strike; one of those left over after an attack on Liverpool, Steve said.

Chris and Steve can also point visitors in the direction of the Victorian Gothic Town Hall, the Medieval Cathedral; and Chester High Cross where Town Cryer David Mitchell rings his bell with a daily Oh yea, oh yea, of local news.

We need to keep our distinctive shops, inns and other venues unique to Chester, said David, who is doing his bit to maintain traditions: his wife Julie is lady town cryer and son Spencer aged 11 is apprentice town cryer.

l Chester's four main roads, Eastgate, Northgate, Watergate and Bridge Street, follow routes laid out by the Romans who founded their Deva Victrix in 79AD

l Next to the Old Dee Bridge stood a group of mills which inspired Chester's unofficial anthem 'The Miller of Dee'

The patron saint of Chester, Werburgh is buried in The Cathedral

Chester was one of the last towns in England to fall to the Normans. William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle, to dominate the nearby Welsh border

Chester was granted city status in 1541 and is one of the best preserved walled cities in England. Apart from a 100metre (330ft) section, the listed Grade I walls are almost complete

Russ Abbot, Daniel Craig, Michael Owen, Sir Adrian Boult, Leonard Cheshire and Ben Foden are among the famous names to have been born in Chester

On the north east corner of the walls is King Charles's Tower where legend had has it Charles I saw his army defeated in the battle of Rowton Heath in 1645. He must have had amazing eyesight. Rowton cannot be seen from the tower

How would you like to see Chester develop? Send your views to or leave a comment below

A video on the Chester Amphitheatre and Roman Gardens


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