Council u-turn over bus station

THE future of a town's bus station has once more been thrown up in the air after developers revealed they were preparing to abandon controversial plans for an unpopular undercover terminal.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE future of a town's bus station has once more been thrown up in the air after developers revealed they were preparing to abandon controversial plans for an unpopular undercover terminal.

The move comes as calls intensify for a referendum on the future of the St Botolph's regeneration in Colchester and proposals for a landmark, £16.5 million visual arts facility (VAF).

Plans for the run-down area include the building of a large new House of Fraser department store, the construction of new courthouses and the relocation of the existing Queen Street bus station to a new covered facility in the heart of the future development.

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However, this last proposal has been met with enormous resistance from campaigners who are determined to keep the current bus station where it is and have rejected any plans for an “underground” terminal in the proposed Vineyard Gate shopping centre.

The East Anglian Daily Times can reveal that at a confidential meeting between the Vineyard Gate developers, Caddick, representatives of House of Fraser and senior Colchester Borough councillors, it came to light that a new blueprint being created for the area includes an open-air bus station on the periphery of the development.

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Ventilation issues, safety and accessibility were key areas of complaint about the prospect of an indoor bus terminal made by pressure group Save our Bus Station (SOS), who have gathered more than 16,000 signatures on a petition in support of their cause.

Yesterday Jack Pooley, of SOS, said: “We think a covered station would be unhygienic and could affect peoples' health.

The fact it uses escalators would not be good, especially for old people and disabled people, and for when they break down.

“Also it would not be safe. Outside people can see people and what's happening - it would be ridiculous to have it below a cover.”

John Jowers, Conservative leader of Colchester Borough Council, said he thought the misconception that the bus station would be underground had polarised negative feeling against it, which in turn had led to the developers exploring other possibilities.

“I think people went on about this 'underground' bus station in a very negative way, and the developers picked up on that.

“The fact is, the bus station was never going to be underground, but covered. There are covered bus stations all over Europe - it's not a new thing. There is one in Chelmsford, under the car park.

“Personally, I am perfectly happy with the way the current scheme stands, and think it should be covered. However, it is true that the developer and House of Fraser are looking at all sorts of options.

“The scheme is being reconsidered, and we are listening to all views. The developers are very happy to entertain all ideas and investigate them.”

But Labour Group leader Tim Young, who confirmed the contents of the meeting after they were put to him by the EADT, said: “I said I thought this should all have been discussed in public.

“This is yet another example of the miscommunication and confusion surrounding this project.

“The council should be open at all stages of this major redevelopment of an important part of Colchester, and then there wouldn't be so many unanswered questions.

He added: “I totally agree with Mr Pooley's comments regarding an underground bus station.”

Mr Young's deputy, Richard Bourne, has called a special council meeting to propose a borough-wide referendum to find out whether the public support a major aspect of the regeneration project, the proposed VAF, which would be built on part of the land where the existing bus station is located.

A proposed Liberal Democrat referendum question, to be put forward to council by group leader Colin Sykes, includes all aspects of the St Botolph's regeneration.

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