AN EAGERLY awaited decision over controversial plans for Horkesley Park Heritage and Conservation Centre is due to be made tonight.

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Members of Colchester Borough Council’s planning committee will vote whether Bunting & Sons get the go-ahead to build the £25million tourist attraction on the edge of the Stour Valley.

The application, which has been recommended for approval by officers at the local authority, has met with strong opposition from campaigners but has also received support from Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell and those who believe it would create a significant number of employment opportunities.

This week, Harwich and north Essex MP Bernard Jenkin has written to the planning committee calling on members to reject the scheme.

He says the 300-page planning officer’s report fails to address “fundamental objections” and the main conclusions condemn the project.

Mr Jenkin said if the scheme is approved he would feel “compelled” to press the secretary of state to call-in the application.

Bunting & Sons want to build the 100-acre visitor attraction within the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It would include an art gallery, gardens, a Suffolk Punch breeding centre and animal displays but all buildings would fall outside the AONB.

The company say it would be a celebration of the countryside and there is huge support for the centre from members of the public.

The Stour Valley Action Group (SVAG), which strongly opposes the application, has submitted a report to the planning committee ahead of tonight’s meeting setting out its reasons for rejecting the scheme.

The group say Horkesley Park would not be deliverable and goes against national and local planning policies.

They cite the council’s consultant, Britton McGrath Associates, which states there would be 150,000 visitors a year at the most and the scheme would only create 50-60 jobs compared with the 170 the applicants are claiming.

Chair Will Pavry said: “Deliverability is all important and it’s quite clear it’s not deliverable or going to be able to achieve anything like the numbers they say.”

He added: “The process followed by planning officers has been deeply flawed and they have not consulted properly.

“The consultation report published last week on the council’s website was completely wrong and there has been no chance for consultation.

“The applicant should carry out proper market research on consumers before going forward. After 12 years it is absolutely amazing this hasn’t been carried out.

“My view is councillors will see this is a deeply flawed application and also contrary to planning policy and they will reject it.”

Hector Bunting, a partner of Bunting & Sons: “Horkesley Park will be an asset for the community, an amenity for local people and a draw for tourists, giving open access to the countryside, benefiting bio-diversity and habitats and providing a large number of jobs”.

“The huge support from members of the public as well as a number of Parish Councils including Great Horkesley and Myland and other bodies including the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Essex.”

Colchester Borough Council’s portfolio holder for planning Tim Young said: “I wish the Stour Valley Action Group would campaign on the strengths of their arguments more than criticising council officers.

“I will defend the officers 100%. They have done a very balanced job but it will be a matter for the planning committee having gone through a comprehensive report which is excellent.”

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