VAF's a jolly good thing

THE decision to build a Visual Arts Facility on the site of Colchester's bus station has caused more than a bit of a rumpus, but does it really need an outsider to overrule the decision of local councillors?Opponents of the plans want Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to call them in.

THE decision to build a Visual Arts Facility on the site of Colchester's bus station has caused more than a bit of a rumpus, but does it really need an outsider to overrule the decision of local councillors?

Opponents of the plans want Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to call them in. He will only take that ultimate sanction after his officials in Whitehall have consulted their regional colleagues in Cambridge to see if there is just cause for him to intervene in a matter which is properly a decision to be made by the borough council, acting as the guardians of the people of the whole district.

He will need to be satisfied that either the local authority has abused its powers or it has ignored the overwhelming wishes of the residents of the borough as a whole.

There is no doubting the VAF is an exciting project which will not only stimulate the people of Tiptree, Stanway, Berechurch, Mile End, and Brightlingsea, but - with proper marketing - will be an attraction for visitors who will then spend money in town centre shops.


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When the plans were first mooted, the Liberal Democrats who controlled the local authority found them exciting. The Conservatives have continued the project with enthusiasm. It's Labour councillors, contrary to New Labour's era of enlightenment, who have come out against plans which in the words of group leader Tim Young are “wasteful, expensive, unwanted, and economically unviable”.

Much of the opposition seems to be centred on the loss of what is claimed to be a much loved bus station. How anyone would want to save the windswept concrete nightmare which passes for a transport interchange is beyond me. It's one of those awful examples of post war civic planning which are rightly being bulldozed up and down the country. And as part of the wider St Botolph's regeneration project, a state of the art undercover bus terminus has been promised for Vineyard Gate.

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VAF's future is at the mercy of local democracy. The real opportunity to protest against the plans comes next month when a third of borough's council seats are up for election. A big vote for candidates, particularly Labour, who want to save the bus station and stop the VAF, may well persuade Mr Prescott that he should call in the plans.

To do that, Labour in Colchester will have to buck the national tide against the party, a highly unlikely prospect. Labour's record in Colchester council and general elections in the past eight years is one of the worst in the whole UK.

As a non council tax payer in Essex, who won't be picking up the tab for the development, opponents of the VAF will say I shouldn't interfere. But as a resident of East Anglia in general, and the Haven Gateway in particular, who spends the majority of his leisure time in Colchester, I endorse the scheme.

Regional and sub-regional cities and towns assume their status and significance by the range of facilities and attractions they offer visitors. They don't have a narrow outlook on life.

With the Olympics only six years away and 45 minutes down the railway line, Colchester has an unprecedented opportunity to showcase itself to the world. And if asked for her opinion, I suspect Tessa Jowell, the Government's supremo for culture and heritage, would agree.

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