Hopes high for retail project

THE team behind a major new retail development that would transform a dilapidated part of Colchester has pledged to press ahead with the project.

Elliot Furniss

THE team behind a major new retail development that would transform a dilapidated part of Colchester has pledged to press ahead with the project.

Despite concerns about its viability in the current financial climate, Richard Weatherhead, development director at Caddick Developments, said the Vineyard Gate project would take more time but would be built.

The plans include a large shopping complex, featuring a flagship state-of-the-art department store building, a public space for use by the community and a pedestrian bridge crossing the nearby Southway dual carriageway.

Originally the plans incorporated a new bus station for the town but spiralling costs led to a rethink and the revised blueprints are nearly finished.

Mr Weatherhead said: “We're pretty well there with the new scheme in terms of redrawing it.

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“We have got to go for planning permission yet as we didn't actually submit the previous scheme for planning as there were viability issues.”

He said he was involved in “ongoing discussions” with Colchester Borough Council about the plans and there were also issues to resolve over highways matters and with English Heritage.

Mr Weatherhead said he was optimistic that the firm would be in a position to submit a planning application to the council by the end of the year and he was “very confident” about its long term prospects.

He said: “There are some question marks about it - there isn't a town or city centre scheme in the country that isn't facing financial viability issues.

“The viability is very much under pressure. There isn't a developer in the country who would build that scheme today - but there are probably 100 schemes in that situation.

“But what we can do is use this time during the recession this year to get ourselves ready and in a position to push the button as and when the economy allows us to get going again.”

He said Colchester was a “fantastic town” and the shopping centre was exactly what it needed in order to meet the demands of its residents and compete with Chelmsford and Ipswich.

The Vineyard Gate development would see a number of shops and other buildings demolished and Mr Weatherhead said that even once the planning application was submitted there would be plenty of work to do before building began, including arranging compulsory purchase orders for the existing properties.

The completed shopping centre would offer about 50,000 square metres of retail space and would form part of wider plans to regenerate the St Botolph's area, which also include the unfinished new visual arts facility and a proposed “cultural quarter”.