Bus station campaigners vow to fight on

CAMPAIGNERS determined to save an urban bus station earmarked to be replaced by a landmark arts venue have said they will fight on - despite the gallery being granted planning permission.

By Roddy Ashworth

CAMPAIGNERS determined to save an urban bus station earmarked to be replaced by a landmark arts venue have said they will fight on - despite the gallery being granted planning permission.

Timothy Oxton, co-ordinator of Save Our Bus Station, said that as Colchester Borough Council's decision to approve plans for the Visual Arts Facility (VAF) had to be ratified by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), his organisation would make representations there.

“The fight is far from over. The most important step now is that it has to go to John Prescott's office.

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“We are hoping to overturn the council's decision at that point,” he said.

Proposals for the £16.5 million VAF were approved on Tuesday evening by the council's planning committee, who backed it by nine votes to one.

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The building forms part of the council's regeneration plans for the run-down St Botolph's quarter of the town and has been in the pipeline for more than 10 years.

Addressing the committee at Tuesday's meeting, Mr Oxton said that the majority of those who had signed a 17,500 strong petition to save the bus station were in favour of the VAF in principle.

But he added they did not want the landmark building, designed by internationally renowned architect Rafael Vinoly, to be built on top of the bus station, but instead nearby, on the frontage of Queens Street.

Yesterday he said: “We believe we can demonstrate to John Prescott's office that the overwhelming majority of the people of Colchester do not want to lose their bus station.

“We are going to take advice from people who know more about this than me as to what arguments we can take to the ODPM.”

Members of the town's Labour group, who have previously opposed the VAF, also appear likely to issue objections to the ODPM.

The group, who stayed away from Tuesday's planning meeting for legal reasons after advice from council officers, met last night to discuss what steps to take next.

However, Richard Bourne, Labour spokesman for the VAF, said: “I would hope we will have the opportunity to make representations to the ODPM.”

However Colin Sykes, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat Group and former council leader, said: “It is now out of the hands of the council.

“The VAF has to some degree become a bane to almost anybody who has had anything to do with it.

“My personal view, and that of the majority of the Liberal Democrat group, is that this whole thing is good for Colchester and will be good for Colchester and I am glad we have got over all the necessary hurdles.

“Once it is up and running and, as I believe it will be, successful, perhaps those who have opposed it for whatever reason will be able to say the council was right.

“Only time will tell but I believe that will be the case.”

And the current council leader, Conservative John Jowers, said: “These people are entitled to their democratic right to have their say, but it is all becoming rather repetitive.

“The bus station they are trying to save strikes me as a 1960s concrete wasteland which is the last place I'd want to be on a dark wet night in Colchester.

“When we have put in a warm, comfortable, secure and light bus station - the sort of thing to encourage people to use public transport, rather than discourage them - I feel sure they will change their mind.”

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