Colchester: Planning appeal for Stour Valley Visitor Centre boosted by MP

Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park

Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park - Credit: Contributed

An Essex MP has reiterated his support for plans for a controversial new agricultural and heritage centre on the outskirts of Colchester.

Sir Bob Russell

Sir Bob Russell - Credit: Andrew Partridge

In March, Colchester Borough Council refused planning permission for the Stour Valley Visitor Centre, to be based at Horkesley Park.

But Bunting & Sons, one of Colchester’s oldest family businesses and the applicants behind the centre, have since launched an appeal in a bid to see the project come to fruition and make their significant investment over several years worthwhile.

Their appeal is being backed by town MP Sir Bob Russell, who expressed his disappointment earlier in the year that the borough council turned down the scheme, despite its own planning officers recommending that it should be approved.

Speaking at the appeal’s inquiry in Langham Community Centre, Sir Bob said: “I believe that the proposals for Horkesley Park are fully in accord with the Government’s planning objectives, notably a sustainable development and where the presumption should be approval unless there are strong reasons to the contrary.

“There are no strong reasons which override such a presumption of consent. The council’s own planners recommended consent.”

Sir Bob also drew a comparison with Colchester Zoo, one of the major attractions for people visiting the county, saying: “The reasons given by objectors as to why Horkesley Park should not be granted consent would have meant, if put forward in 1963, that Colchester Zoo would never have been established. Today it is the biggest single tourist attraction in Essex.”

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He also refuted claims that the roads around the proposed 100-acre site would be unable to cope with the traffic generated by the centre, pointing to other attractions which are served by poorer routes.

At the time the original decision was made councillor Mark Cable, who sat on the planning committee, said there were significant concerns about whether the project would work.

“For me, there was a massive question over whether it would still be running 24 months after it was built,” said Mr Cable.

“I have no confidence that an attraction of that size built around the draw of Suffolk Punch horses would work.”

The inquiry opened on Tuesday and closes this morning. A second session will run at the Moot Hall in Colchester between October 14 and 18.