PLANS for a huge new shopping centre as part of multi-million pound project would turn Colchester into a "clone town", its MP warned last night.Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell also accused Colchester Borough Council of deception as the authority's cabinet met to take another step forward in the St Botolph's £150 million regeneration project.
By Juliette Maxam
PLANS for a huge new shopping centre as part of multi-million pound project would turn Colchester into a "clone town", its MP warned last night.
Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell also accused Colchester Borough Council of deception as the authority's cabinet met to take another step forward in the St Botolph's £150 million regeneration project.
The council is considering a scheme which would see the run-down Queen Street/St Botolph's/Osborne Street area of the town centre transformed into the St Botolph's quarter with 70 new shops, including an upmarket House of Fraser store, 100 homes and a new relocated bus station.
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Last night the cabinet agreed in principle to a scheme set out by a developer appointed two years ago, Vineyard Gate Developments, and accepted legal advice that most of the project would not have to go out to public tender.
Members decided to instruct lawyers to draw up an agreement for the council to make with the developer, to be agreed at a future meeting.
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They also agreed to ask the strategic overview and scrutiny panel to look at the issue.
Documents leaked to the EADT show the council will benefit from a one-off £3million windfall and a £500,000-a-year share of rent from the new shopping complex.
There has been much opposition to the plans, with 16,000 people signing a petition against proposals to knock down the current bus station in Queen Street and replace it with an underground depot in Osborne Street.
A state-of-the art visual arts facility is due to be built on the current bus station site.
Colchester MP Mr Russell, who has strongly opposed the project, told the meeting: "I don't want the town to become a clone town and this proposal will take us ever further down the clone town route."
Mr Russell said the council was guilty of deception because the current proposed development is bigger and more expensive than the masterplan previously agreed and put out to public consultation.
He also said the scheme was designed to meet "current requirements of bus companies" but will not cope with planned increased public transport.
The MP criticised the council for leaving out concerns from English Heritage and not including a retail impact assessment in the report before cabinet last night.
Council leader John Jowers hit back at Mr Russell's criticism and stressed there was no deception.
He said some of Mr Russell's fears would be addressed when the development went before the planning committee.
Robert Davidson, cabinet member for regeneration, said the scheme would create 500 jobs and £100 million of spending in Colchester.
"We want Colchester to be an excellent place. We're all proud of Colchester. Our future generation deserve the chance of ongoing improvement," he said.