New community stadium a step closer

THE dream of a new community stadium and home for Colchester United has moved a step closer to reality now key planning difficulties in the multi-million redevelopment have been overcome.

THE dream of a new community stadium and home for Colchester United has moved a step closer to reality now key planning difficulties in the multi-million redevelopment have been overcome.

Promoted jointly by Colchester United and Colchester Borough Council, the new stadium is to be built at Cuckoo Farm in North Colchester. However, it is dependent upon a new junction being formed on to the A12.

The club and the council claimed the Highways Agency, which is responsible for the trunk road, had until recently, been vetoing this new junction – a claim denied strongly by the agency. But now, the agency has confirmed that, subject to some fine-tuning, it satisfied with the proposals.

Peter Heard, chairman of the U's, said: "We are delighted with recent progress. The club and the council are working together really hard to get this prestigious project off the ground. It's rewarding to see that our efforts are coming to fruition.

"I am glad to hear that the lengthy problems with the Highways Agency appear to be close to resolution and this part of the process should hopefully soon culminate with an outline planning consent for a new community stadium."

Andrea Hill, council chief executive, added: "A new community stadium is central to our wish to see Colchester becoming a prestigious regional centre. This exciting development is a real sign that our partnership with Colchester United is developing strongly."

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Plans for a new, high-quality park and ride scheme, next to the stadium, are also now taking shape. This should help the passage of the community stadium through the planning process and make the stadium accessible to more people in the Colchester area.

Arrangements are now being made to amend the community stadium planning application to take on-board these changes and the submission of this revised application is now only a few months away.

But, despite the latest breakthrough, Colchester MP Bob Russell is still highly critical of the time it has taken for this project to be dealt with.

The U's season ticket holder said: "This major planning application has been drifting and I have been told by those close to the action that my Parliamentary Questions have jollied it along.

"But this latest news still does not alter the fact that I can detect no enthusiasm among senior borough council officers towards the stadium, unlike towards a new arts centre, and both are of equal importance.

"Yet Colchester United does more to promote the name of Colchester around the country than any other single organisation in the town."

A spokeswoman for the Highways Agency said: "This is a significant point in the sense that all the hurdles have been sorted out, for example, the effect of any future widening of the A12 to three lanes.

"There had also been delays in the developer getting information to us so we were able to assess the proposals. But gradually the information has come through and the proposal is going to go forward.

"The application will now most probably come before the council in June."

In October 2001, the Cuckoo Farm scheme – one of the most significant redevelopment projects Colchester has witnessed in recent years - was finally unveiled. As well as including the Colchester United community stadium and a new A12 junction, it also comprises the last phase of the Northern Approaches Road, the Severalls Hospital residential scheme and a business area east of Cuckoo Farm.

Since then, a massive public consultation exercise has been undertaken with Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council, the Highways Agency and many other bodies.

The planning application is extremely complex. Until the new A12 junction is approved, the council cannot give permission for the other parts of the development. But conversely, unless the stadium, residential area and business park go ahead, the junction cannot be funded.

The junction will have to be built before any other the other schemes can come into operation, but probably no sooner than two years after planning permission.

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