A DEVELOPER has made an offer to buy Colchester’s former Severalls Hospital and build 1,252 homes there.

It has raised hope work could finally start 16 years after the hospital closed.

Colliers International, hired by the Homes & Communities Agency and the North Essex Mental Health Partnership to market the 48 hectare plot, say the site is under offer.

Residents hope redevelopment will scupper or delay plans for 1,600 homes in fields off Nayland Road.

Martin Goss, borough councillor for Mile End, said a developer had come forward with a substantial offer and an announcement was due before the New Year.

He said: “The deal is agreed behind closed doors and they’re filling in all the paperwork so it doesn’t fall through.

“The site has had so much uncertainty for many years, and I’d rather see that go forward than the Mersea Homes’ one.

Colchester Council last month approved Mersea Homes’ outline planning application for 1,600 homes off Nayland Road. A final decision will be made by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.

Mr Goss said: “I hope with Mr Pickles deliberating over the Mersea Homes’ site, he may well say: ‘Hang on, we’ve got a site here with a builder which has got a substantial number of houses to be built, surely we don’t want to build a second major site at the same time?’”

Pete Hewitt, chairman of Myland Community Council, said members had been encouraged by talks held with the mental health partnership over Severalls. He said: “Our argument is the Severalls site already has planning permission, it’s a brownfield site and it should take precedence over the north growth area.

“It’s been on the cards for a long time. We’ve had ongoing talks with the owners and were relatively happy with the outline plan we saw, because it’s fairly sympathetic to the site.”

Colchester Council says the Severalls and Nayland Road sites are both needed to meet housing targets.

The mental health partnership declined to comment until a deal had been agreed. No-one at the Homes & Communities Agencywas available to comment.

MOST of the former Edwardian asylum has been in limbo since 2008 when Taylor Wimpey pulled out of plans to build 1,500 homes.

However, about 30 of 248 homes on one corner of the site, away from the main hospital buildings, have been built by developer Crest Nicholson in phase one of the redevelopment.

Phase two will include a primary school, community centre and allotments, while space is also available for a convenience store, GP and potentially a police station.

The successful developer will also pay for a road linking the Northern Approach Road with junction 28 of the A12, which is under construction and is due to be opened in summer 2014.

Only four buildings of the centuryold asylum, including the listed administration building and a water tower, must be retained and redeveloped under the planning permission granted by Colchester Council.

The remainder have been so badly damaged by vandals since the hospital closed in 1997 they cannot be saved.