AMBITIOUS multi-million pound plans to convert an iconic disused water tower into a restaurant in the sky have moved a big step closer.

The Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust has reached an agreement with Paul Flatman – the owner of Jumbo – to acquire the lease for the tower if they are successful in attracting cash needed to get it off the ground.

Last year the trust released a report on possible options for the building which has stood empty for 30 years and held a public exhibition to scope opinion on the plans.

A scheme which could see a bistro on the ground floor with a kitchen above, a smaller restaurant with exhibition space at the highest level of the tower, and an activity zone within the water tank is now the frontrunner.

The project is likely to cost more than £3 million and could eventually include a high wire walk experience around the outside of the tank.

After the trust has refined and costed the project, a bid will be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund in spring next year.

Chairman Simon Hall MBE said he believed the project could breathe new life into the town centre.

He said: “There is an awful lot of work to do between now and when the Heritage Lottery Fund grant application is submitted but our agreement with Mr Flatman means we can now proceed knowing that we can obtain Jumbo if the grant is approved.

“Colchester is changing and a rejuvenated Jumbo will be a symbol of the confidence we have in the prosperity and excitement of the town.”

The scheme has already received support from Colchester Council and Historic England.

Director of the trust David Balcombe said the town needed to get behind the project to ensure it happens.

He said: “It will be vital we capture the potential of the building and the water tank in particular.

“This means enabling all groups of people to use it in a way which has tangible benefits for them such as learning about Jumbo and Victorian Colchester, acquiring new skills in tourism and project work or in the actual restoration of Jumbo.”

Since Jumbo stopped being used as a water tower in 1987 the building, which dominates the Colchester skyline, has had six different owners.

Various schemes to convert it into homes in the 1990s were refused and an application by then-owner George Brathwaite to convert it into penthouses, flats, a restaurant and offices were twice thrown out by Colchester Council in 2011 and 2013.

The Grade II listed Victorian building was bought by chicken farmer Mr Flatman at auction in 2014 for £190,000. The tower built in 1882 was nicknamed Jumbo after the London Zoo elephant.

A spokesman for Mr Flatman said: "Paul Flatman and his family are pleased to be working with the Colchester and North Essex
Building Preservation Trust on the preservation and development of Jumbo, which will provide for its restoration and secure the future of the tower for the town of Colchester for the next 100 years."