Great Horkesley: Officers reject £25m heritage centre plans

Controversial plans for Horkesley Park Heritage and Conservation Centre were rejected by planning of

Controversial plans for Horkesley Park Heritage and Conservation Centre were rejected by planning officers tonight. - Credit: Contributed

A CONTROVERSIAL £25million visitor centre on the Essex-Suffolk border was rejected last night amid joyous scenes from campaigners.

A marathon planning meeting which included fierce debate from both sides of the argument ended when councillors voted against the Horkesley Park Heritage and Conservation Centre.

The proposals had been recommended for approval by officers at the local authority. There has been a decade-long struggle to get permission for the proposed 100-acre attraction in Great Horkesley by family-run business Bunting & Sons.

It remains unclear as to whether they will re-submit the application or appeal the decision.

Councillors rejected the plans due to concerns over the viability of the business plan, traffic fears, the size of the project and the impact on the surrounding area.

The plans have divided opinion in the community and sparked strong feelings on both sides which were evident in the 400-strong crowd at the meeting at Charter Hall in Colchester last night. During a rousing speech Will Pavey, who is chairman of opposition group Stour Valley Action Group (SVAG), called into question the claims about job creation. Bunting & Sons say the centre would have created up to 200 jobs.

He said: “There is no evidence the jobs can be delivered. It is unsustainable and against planning policies. It must be rejected.”

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Steve Clarke, chairman of Nayland Parish Council, agreed: “We will suffer noise and light pollution and extra traffic.

“Much has been made of the jobs to be created but very few facts provided. The local delivery framework stresses small-scale development And this is not it.”

Partner at Bunting & Sons, Steven Bunting, said: “For almost 200 years we have been at the heart of the borough. We want to create something of which we are proud. Our track record proves we can.”

Bunting & Sons have described the attraction as “a celebration of the English countryside” through the themes of agriculture, food, art and conservation.

The most recent plans were a scaled-down version of a previous application which was rejected last May and included proposals for an art gallery, gardens, a Suffolk Punch breeding centre and animal displays.

Around three-quarters of the site is located within the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) but the proposed new buildings will fall outside.

The application had met with strong opposition from campaigners but received support from Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell and those who believe it would create a significant number of employment opportunities.

But earlier this week, Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin wrote to the planning committee calling on members to reject the scheme. He said the 300-page planning officers’ report fails to address “fundamental objections” and the main conclusions condemn the project.

Mr Jenkin told the EADT if the scheme was approved he would feel “compelled” to press the Secretary of State to further probe application.

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