Expert warns council reason for town centre redevelopment refusal is 'unreasonable'
Planners in Colchester are being advised to drop one of the reasons for refusing permission for a major town centre redevelopment after it was deemed "unreasonable".
Alumno Student (Essex) Ltd had applied for permission to redevelop land off Queen's Street to provide around 340 rooms of student accommodation as well as a 87-bed hotel, space for shops, artist studios and public open spaces.
The borough council's planning committee had turned down the application, one of the reasons being that the firm had not properly consulted with ward councillors and local community groups in the area before submitting the plans.
Alumno Student (Essex) Ltd appealed the decision.
However, in a shock twist, a consultant employed by the council to review the first reason for refusal has stated she doesn't think the authority can defend it.
In a letter to the borough council, which has been published online, Nicky Parsons, from Pegasus Group, said that particular reason for refusal was 'unreasonable' and that the council was at risk of losing the appeal.
She said: "Officers have confirmed that pre-application discussions had taken place and that these included the ward councillor and the local community.
"Therefore, it is not possible to defend the first reason for refusal and any attempt to do so will undermine my credibility as a witness, which could taint the remainder of my evidence and potentially undermine the entire case."
She added: "Should the council disagree with my advice and decide to pursue this matter I will be forced to concede that it is unreasonable when cross-examined on the issue by the appellant's barrister."
She said the council should consider removing that reason for refusal, adding that the point is better addressed by its second reason - that the application is considered to constitute a poor design which would have an adverse impact on the townscape of the area.
The council's planning committee is set to meet on Thursday, August 15, to decide whether they will remove the first reason for refusal and whether it will go ahead with the second.