Developer behind new leisure park in Colchester hits out at council over cinema plans

Churchmanor Estates project director John Harvey and managing director Stephen Clark hold a consulta

Churchmanor Estates project director John Harvey and managing director Stephen Clark hold a consultation into planned second phase of development at Tollgate. - Credit: Su Anderson

A developer whose plans for a leisure quarter in Stanway have been recommended for refusal by council planners has claimed the authority’s own leisure plans will have a “devastating” impact on Colchester town centre.

Artists' impression of Stane Park

Artists' impression of Stane Park - Credit: Archant

Churchmanor Estates is behind proposals for the £12million Stane Park, with a pub, KFC, Starbucks and three restaurants including Nandos, creating up to 250 jobs.

Colchester Borough Council’s planning committee is due to rule on the scheme during a meeting on Thursday, but council officers have suggested the project is refused because of the impact it would have on the town centre and because it takes away employment land.However the council has its own proposal to create a leisure park next to the Weston Homes Community Stadium at the Northern Gateway, including a multiplex cinema and up to 20 restaurants and other facilities.A development partner is due to be selected shortly, with a planning application expected by the end of the year, and Churchmanor Estates say Cineworld has already confirmed its interest.However Stephen Clark, managing director of Churchmanor Estates, said the Odeon cinema in Colchester town centre had told him the Northern Gateway plans would be a “real blow for Colchester’s night-time economy”.Mr Clark said: “Odeon said it seems inconceivable a council would threaten the night-time economy of a town in this way when most local authorities are putting cinemas back into their town centres to support them.”Plans for a Curzon art house cinema in the town centre have been backed by the borough council.Mr Clark added: “I am absolutely flabbergasted. On the one hand planning officers say our leisure quarter will have a detrimental impact on town centre trade, when on the other hand the officers are supporting a scheme which is eight times bigger in scale. “It would seem perverse for the council to happily grant themselves consent for what will be the biggest out of town leisure park in Essex, but then recommend refusal for ours.“Our scheme is by comparison extremely modest, and designed for Stanway residents where there are more than 1,800 new homes being built.“The council has planning powers and can do as it sees fit but surely a degree of consistency should be applied in its decisions.“Whilst I respect the council having worked with them for 26 years, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that one of the sub-plots of looking to turn down our investment in Stane Park is to help the council bolster interest and investment in their own scheme.”Mr Clark also said the Northern Gateway employment land was rated as better than that at Stanway.The planning committee meets from 6pm at Colchester Town Hall.A Colchester Borough Council spokesman said: “The Northern Gateway site already benefits from outline planning permission for a stadium, hotel, assembly and leisure which includes health & fitness, cinemas, swimming pools, restaurant and pub, and business units.“The outline application was subject to appropriate and rigorous public scrutiny and was evaluated in the light of relevant planning policies at the time. It was considered by the planning committee which was critical of the stadium.“This contrasts with the Stane Park applications that are clearly contrary to current planning policies. Any future planning applications on the Northern Gateway area will be considered in the light of current adopted planning policies and dealt with in the same way as any other land owner.“The council rigorously ensures applications on its own land are subject to at least the same scrutiny as any other applicant’s proposals. It robustly refutes any implied suggestion of bias in its consideration of planning applications on land it owns.”

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