£12 million park to celebrate heritage

By Roddy AshworthA NEW £12 million proposal to create a 120-acre country park featuring a unique visitor centre celebrating the rural heritage of the Stour Valley was launched yesterday.

By Roddy Ashworth

A NEW £12 million proposal to create a 120-acre country park featuring a unique visitor centre celebrating the rural heritage of the Stour Valley was launched yesterday.

But almost as soon as the plans were unveiled there was criticism from the head of a local pressure group, who claimed they were merely a revamp of an unpopular scheme withdrawn in 2001.

Landowners Bunting and Sons have applied to transform their redundant tomato nurseries in Great Horkesely, near Colchester, into a visitor attraction called Horkesley Park.

The rural conservation centre would bring the equivalent of 180 full time jobs to the area and involve extensive landscaping and the creation of picnic areas, fishing lakes, woodland, open space and cycle paths linking to the national cycle network.

Traditional barges would be built, to be pulled along the Stour by Suffolk Punch horses, while numerous displays and exhibitions would focus on the Stour Valley and its rural economy throughout the years.

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The existing empty tomato glass-houses - now uneconomical to run - would be replaced with a visitor centre screened by trees and housing an audio/visual education unit, a café and restaurant and a dedicated area focusing on the life and times of East Anglian artist John Constable.

The centre would be divided into 12 zones, each with a different theme relating to rural pursuits and traditions.

One of these would house a garden centre while another would be called “The Food Experience”, where local produce would be available to buy.

Another feature would be a Suffolk Punch Breeding centre, where the endangered species will be encouraged to flourish.

Meanwhile the Chantry, a neighbouring Georgian country house recently acquired by Bunting and Sons, will be used to house an art gallery which it is hoped will feature nationally important works and collections.

Launching the project yesterday, Stephen Bunting said it was not a simple update of former, now withdrawn, plans to create a John Constable Heritage Centre, which included a large proportion of commercially-driven areas.

Visitors would pay varying entrance fees, depending on which areas of the attraction they wished to access, he added.

“It is completely different. This really is about heritage and conservation. Any idea of an out-of-town retail centre has gone.

“This will be a very high quality place for people to come. It is something that Colchester borough will never have seen before.

“It is a rare beast - a fantastic opportunity. There is no hidden agenda. This can help to preserve our rural economy, which we feel very strongly about.”

However Will Pavry, chairman of the Stour Valley Action Group, said although he had only received the plans yesterday he did not feel it was really different to the former proposal.

“On the face of it, it would still appear to be a very large retail activity,” said Mr Pavry, who lives close to the nurseries site, in Water Lane.

“183 permanent-equivalent staff - to pay for that you need an awful lot of people coming through the doors.

“Our concern is to get something on the site that does not involve huge numbers of people driving down the A134. Housing might be an option.”


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