BLUEPRINTS for homes on a site originally set to be used as a £25million heritage centre have been recommended for approval by planners.

Mersea Homes has submitted the plans for 22 houses on land off London Road, Great Horkesley, which currently includes dozens of disused greenhouses.

The land has been the subject of controversy for more than 13 years with a debate raging over the previous owners, Bunting and Sons, wanting to convert the area into a heritage centre.

Bunting and Sons, who wanted to dub the area as Horkesley Park, went into administration in 2014 owing £14million and the land was among assets which were sold off.

It was bought by W and H Park, a subsidiary of Pigeon Investments, which has worked with Mersea Homes in a bid to come up with a suitable scheme, which includes four affordable homes.

The site lies just outside an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and planning guidelines say it must be protected from developments which detract from its natural beauty.

In a planning statement, council officers tipped the plans for approval.

It said: "The proposed development represents an equitable means of securing significant visual enhancement of this disused former commercial horticultural nursery and would deliver significant public benefits to justify a departure from restrictive planning policies relating to development in the open countryside and AONB in particular."

As part of the agreement, the developers would pledge £150k to pay for repairs at the Church of All Saints.

The Stour Valley Action Group was formed to monitor application on the site and chairman Kate Charlton-Jones said: "The scheme proposed is of high quality and is well considered,but the documentation is silent as to why 22 residential units, represents the minimum scale of development required to remove the harm of the redundant buildings."

Colchester Council's planning committee is set to discuss the proposals on Thursday.