The changing face of Colchester...how shopping centres, hotels and new roads will change our town forever (From Gazette)
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The changing face of Colchester...how shopping centres, hotels and new roads will change our town forever
12:00pm Friday 1st November 2013 in News
DEVELOPMENT is big business in Colchester.
With the borough among the fastest growing in the country, councils and developers are seeking to create new facilities.
Shopping centres, hotels and major roads are all in the pipeline.
Yet residents have been waiting for more than a decade for some projects – with no end in sight.
Why do these things take so long to get off the ground?
Nick Barlow, Colchester councillor responsible for regeneration, said many council-led projects take a long time because of how many partners they have to work with.
Firstsite took 20 years from conception to opening. That included an extended five-year building process featuring contractor sackings, legal battles, building malfunction and construction costs spiralling from £16.3million to more than £28million.
The community stadium, sponsored by Weston Homes, took a mere year to build and opened in 2008, but was more than a decade in the pipeline.
Mr Barlow said: “With regeneration sites, a lot of it is arranging funding. When the council is involved, we have to raise the money, especially with bigger things, or find a partner to get involved.
“There have been problems because of the recent global market, but things have picked up.”
Vineyard Gate Shopping Centre is the prime example of a development which has yet to come to fruition. The shopping centre was first mooted in 2002. Now 11 years down the line, and several changes of heart later, plans are scheduled to be handed to Colchester Council next year.
The latest model is smaller than previous proposals – a 175,000 sq ft centre with a range of stores which would create about 750 jobs.
Although the scheme is part of Colchester Council’s masterplan for the St Botolph’s area, it is being built and financed by a private developer – Caddick.
Mr Barlow said: “We are hoping Vineyard Gate is finally moving on.
The financial situation is in a better place.
“Colchester has done better than other places and we are starting to get to a position now when things, like Vineyard Gate, can happen.”
First proposed 25 years ago, work began last year and the road is due to be open early next year.
Developers said the economic downturn was to blame for the delay. In the end, work began just days before a second round of planning permission ran out.
Almost as long in the pipeline is the redevelopment of Severalls Hospital, which closed in 1997.
Five years ago, a developer pulled out of building 1,500 homes on the site, along with a new A12 junction. While funding for the junction was found, the first homes on the land have only recently been completed.
Landowners, the North Essex Mental Health Partnership and the Homes & Communities Agency, are understood to be close to a deal with a developer to take on the majority of the site.
Colchester Council anticipates it will be at least 15 years until this long-awaited development will be completed, although a road linking the Northern Approach Road with the A12 junction should be open next summer.
Even smaller projects take longer than some would expect.
Late last year, OMC Investments began converting the former Grey Friars college in East Hill and surrounding buildings into a four-star boutique hotel.
The developer, which bought the site from Essex County Council five years ago, has said work is in full progress behind the hoardings covering the listed buildings, but an opening date has not yet been set.
One project which seems not to have been in the pipeline long and is already underway is the £30million redevelopment of Williams and Griffin. The department store is undergoing a revamp which will see it expand by 50 per cent when the work is finished in 2016.
Mr Barlow said: “Colchester Council has to reveal plans earlier because it is a public body.
“Yet companies like Williams and Griffin can work on them for a lot longer behind closed doors.
“Williams and Griffin has been looking into this refurbishment for a long time, yet it seems shorter because the public was only made aware of it more recently.”
One project which developers are hoping will be completed sooner rather than later is plans for the old Odeon in Crouch Street. First proposed as a nightclub ten years ago, the plans were turned down several times.
A developer revealed earlier this year they wanted to turn the now delapidated structure into a hotel and flats, but has now abandoned the hotel part of its plans.
Ross Carroll, who is behind the plans, said far more went into developments than many people realised, explaining: “When we are talking about prominent buildings, such as the Odeon, people want these plans to rush through, but we need to make sure they’re right.
“We have toworkwith the planners at Colchester Council, but we also have to work with those on the monetary side of things.
It’s a fine balance.
“The first design we made was so we had a talking point. Now they’ve been revised.
“We are hoping to get the Odeon all done and dusted in the next year or so but there’s a lot of hard work to go.”
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