Chester: It’s all happening ‘up north’ (6 of 6)

Chester – Blog 6 of 6 in this series about business in the Northwest of England

Boasting of having one of the most complete city walls in the UK and a claim to the oldest shopfront in England, Chester is certainly one of the most historic cities in the country and a major focus of the tourist industry for the Northwest. It was founded by the Romans as a fort in the year 79 AD and grew through successive occupations by the Britons, Saxons, Danes and finally Normans in 1071. Today, visitors come to walk around the walls – which are complete around a two-mile circuit, save for a hundred-metre section in front of the city hall – and shop in the medieval ‘Rows’, a unique architectural feature of the city. Shops and dwellings are located on the first two floors of a façade, often with the lower story below street level and accessed by a flight of steps.

During the industrial revolution, Chester supplied workers for the booming towns and cities of the Northwest, operating a network of canals, which also carried coal, slate, gypsum and lead ore to the Lead Works. Finished lead for export, and grain and salt were stored in huge canal-side warehouses, previously important for the city’s flour mills. The system of locks down to the River Dee allowed canal-boats to load their cargoes directly onto sea-going vessels, making Chester an important point of focus for the growth of the region.

Today, the principle industry is tourism. In 2007 the local government earmarked £1.3bn in a project to make Chester one of the ‘must-see’ destinations in Europe by 2022. Nicknamed Chester Renaissance, the plans include investment in the city centre and retail areas, the creation of a new ‘Cathedral Quarter’, which will showcase the historic aspects of the city in a vibrant, modern atmosphere, the building of a new library and theatre, as well as significant investment in the creation of a dedicated Business Quarter. This last could represent a significant opportunity for local business, with the creation of more than 1000 new jobs and 500,000 square feet of new office space, likely to attract some big players in the world of finance.

The retail sector in the town is also strong with an indoor market and two indoor shopping centres, in addition to the historic ‘Rows’ described above. Two out-of-town shopping centres, Cheshire Oaks and Broughton Retail Park, continue to draw shoppers from a wide area around the city. Broughton itself is a major employer in the region, home to the Airbus UK factory and providing more than 6000 jobs. In Chester itself, the existing financial district contains a few big names not seen in other urban centres in the region, including Bank of America, NFU Mutual and M&S Money. HBOS have offices here too, and price comparison website moneysupermarket.com is based in Ewloe, just across the border.

Situated as it is, right up against Wales, Chester is not as well connected to the rest of the UK as other urban centres in the Northwest region. Rail links in particular are quite poor, although both Liverpool and Holyhead can be reached by train at regular intervals. London can be reached via Crewe. Road links are better, however. The city sits in the crux of the M53 (Liverpool) and M55 (Manchester) motorways, as well as the A55, the main route into North Wales. Within the city, cycling is very much on the agenda. In 2008, Chester was named by the transport secretary as a ‘cycling demonstration town’, meaning that £500,000 was made available each year for investment in cycling. Ambitious projects in years 1 and 2 saw the establishment of greenways linking Chester with surrounding villages and the implementation of a ‘Bikeability’ cycling education scheme in local primary schools. One major obstruction to cycling in the town continues to be the inner ring-road, which is currently accessible to cyclists only in one direction.

Because of its status as a supplier of labour to other towns, a tourist attraction, and its quirky retail sector, Chester has survived the shift in UK industry away from heavy industry and textiles better than many other urban centres in the Northwest, although it struggles somewhat because of its position to the extreme west of the region. Significant investment is planned, however, over the next ten years, and it may represent an excellent location for retail and financial businesses in the near future.

Pointers

  • The historic city of Chester is known for its city walls and medieval shopping ‘Rows’
  • Chester was an important centre for the growth of the region in the industrial revolution, supplying workers to cities across the North West and operating a network of canals
  • Today the main industry is tourism
  • In 2007 the local government earmarked £1.3bn to make Chester one of the ‘must-see’ destinations in Europe by 2022
  • This ‘Chester Renaissance’ plan includes investment in the city centre and retail areas, the creation of a new Cathedral Quarter and Business Quarter, and the building of a new library and theatre
  • The new Business Quarter is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs and 500,000 square feet of office space, likely to attract some big players in the world of finance
  • The retail sector is also strong with an indoor market and two indoor shopping centres, in addition to the historic ‘Rows’, and two out-of-town shopping centres
  • Its position to the extreme west of the region means it is not as well connected to rail links as other North West cities, but it has good road links to Liverpool, Manchester and North Wales
  • In 2008 Chester was named by the transport secretary as a ‘cycling demonstration town’ and the city has invested heavily in cycling projects
  • With significant investment planned, Chester may represent an excellent location for retail and financial businesses in the future

Apr 14, 2015