AMBITIOUS plans to build a £70 million open air shopping centre must be taken back at the drawing board if there is any chance of a successful scheme, a council boss has admitted.

Vineyard Gate shopping centre has been on the cards for almost two decades but has been consistently caught up in delays.

Colchester Council bosses had hoped fresh designs put forward last year would lead to increased interest from a developer and from prospective retailers.

However, concerns were raised at the time that interest had cooled on the scheme as a result of the uncertainty over the controversial Tollgate Village plans.


Concerns - Vineyard Gate

Those plans were eventually given the green light in August.

Now Colchester Council leader Paul Smith has admitted: “I think it is now fair to say people are less keen about coming to Vineyard Gate.

“It is pretty obvious there is a great deal of retail at Tollgate Village.

“Where there was once one option for retail space in Colchester, there are now two and the growth is much greater in Tollgate than in the town centre.”

He added: “It certainly means we will have to re-think the whole Vineyard Gate concept. We are back at the drawing board really.


Approved - Tollgate Village

“We are still committed to there being development on that site, but we will have to look closely at what would go there.

“It’s pretty clear a retail-led scheme may not work there, so we will have to look at what will?

“Perhaps something which is being mooted for the former Co-op building would fit the bill better - a more leisure-led scheme.”

Mr Smith also pointed to a report written by planning inspector Kenneth Barton - who opted to allow the Tollgate Village scheme to go ahead - which acknowledged there would be an impact in the town centre.

But Mr Barton said the benefits of Tollgate Village would outweigh the drawbacks on the town centre.

Mr Smith added: “He was right. And now the big retailers are looking at Tollgate Village, which obviously has a lot of space for a lot of retailers.

“People know there is going to be a big retail expansion in Colchester but it is not going to be in the town centre.”

Colchester Council owns much of the land around Vineyard Gate but there are outstanding properties which are still in private ownership.

A main developer is yet to be appointed after the authority cut ties with the Caddick Group.