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Cinema at Colchester’s Northern Gateway ‘unlawful’

Work is progressing on the David Lloyd Leisure club, which is taking up less land than in the original Colchester Northern Gateway masterplan.

Work is progressing on the David Lloyd Leisure club, which is taking up less land than in the original Colchester Northern Gateway masterplan.

Proposals for a cinema in north Colchester are “unlawful”, rival developers have claimed.

The multi-screen IMAX Cineworld with more than 2,300 seats on land close to the Weston Homes Community Stadium has long been a vision of Colchester Borough Council for its Northern Gateway development.

A planning application has been submitted for change of use to allow the cinema to go ahead, using some of the land allocated for a health and fitness centre and some earmarked for restaurants.

The applicants, Turnstone Colchester, say because the planning class is the same and the leisure facility – in the form of a David Lloyd club – is currently being built, the minor change of use application is all that is required. The original planning permission is for “Class D2 (Health and Fitness Centre)”, not just class D2 – which would also include a cinema,

But this has been challenged by two developers behind leisure quarters in Stanway in the borough, who say it would only be lawful if a full planning application is made.

Churchmanor Estates is appealing to the planning inspector after its proposed Stane Park development, comprising of six restaurants, fast food outlets and coffee shops, was turned down by Colchester Borough Council because it did not fit the allocated employment land use.

Stephen Clark, managing director of Churchmanor Estates, said the firm was challenging the Northern Gateway cinema plans after taking legal advice which it said showed the application “could not lawfully be made”.

He said: “When Colchester Borough Council announced its plans for the Northern Gateway it gave the impression it already had planning permission for a 12-screen cinema, which it didn’t.

“A change of use application – which is now deemed unlawful – is only used for minor planning amendments and therefore requires less public scrutiny than a full application. A multiplex cinema is hardly a minor variation.

“Whilst it is generally recognised the council wants to create a Tollgate Mark 2 at Colchester North, it should have been more transparent.

“This episode sadly creates the impression the council may have been trying to slip the application through and supports the belief held by many that the council has double standards when it comes to planning decisions.

“The situation calls for a very open debate and re-appraisal of what Colchester wants going forward.”

The Tollgate Partnership, which is behind plans for the Tollgate Village retail and cinema development which was given provisional approval by the council’s planning committee last month, has also challenged the application saying it is a major change of use away from a health a fitness centre, and that it would fail test of using the most appropriate available land first as the Stanway site was available.

Ben Locker, Conservative councillor for Mile End which includes the Northern Gateway, has called in the application meaning it will be debated by the council’s planning committee.

The cinema and restaurant plans had previously led the council to face accusations of double standards after officers opposed the Stanway developments while the administration continued to promote the Northern Gateway.

The council said the difference came as Northern Gateway had already received planning permission before the new Local Plan was introduced.

Commenting on the change of use application, a Colchester Borough Council spokesman said: “The council, as local planning authority, has received objections submitted on behalf of other commercial interests that claim the application for development at United Way is procedurally flawed.

“These objections have been placed on the council’s web site.

“The council is currently considering these submissions.”

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