FIRMS near to Colchester’s proposed new Cultural Quarter say these controversial plans will be a boost for business.

Plans to overhaul land off Queen Street, which was previously home to Colchester bus station, were officially validated last night.

The proposals represent developer Alumno’s final plans for the area and will now be assessed by Colchester Council planners before being put before its planning committee.

The development, if approved, will include 340 student rooms, a performance space, two new public places - dubbed Firstsite Square and Theatre Square - an 87-bed Travelodge and a number of retail units.

Proponents also say the scheme will open up the stretch of Roman wall, which runs along Priory Street car park, and will also create about 50 jobs in the long term, with significantly more in the shorter term during construction.

However, critics have attacked the plans, labelling them a ‘cultural slaughter’, citing Lego-like designs and a perceived “rush” to give the scheme the green light.

As part of the 60 item application, the developers have published a survey of businesses in the area.

Of the 21 surveyed, 20 said the plans would be a boost for business, with 18 labelling the scheme as “quite good” or “very good” for business.

Retailers were particularly supportive of the hotel, which they say would be likely to increase spending in their premises.

A report submitted by Jeremy Leach Research states: “Although the majority of traders said that conditions were at least quite good at present, when this was discussed in more detail, it was clear that this part of Colchester was experiencing a tough time.

“As well as more general concerns about high business rates and rents, there were significant worries about the future of the area with the loss of the bus depot and the footfall it had generated, the closure of a number of shops including Peacocks, the high turnover of businesses and the perceived dominance of a small range of shops such as hair and beauty and takeaways.”

The report adds: “There were worries about footfall in a part of the town that was felt to be set apart from the High Street and needed attractions to draw people in.

“There was though a recognition of the capacity of this site and the new developments surrounding it to play this role and some businesses were already seeing custom from the new Curzon cinema and the more established Firstsite.”

Traders also told the researchers students are “valuable” to the economy, with a number of businesses already offering student-only offers.

The report adds: “There were concerns that the student residents needed to be well managed and that this development should not threaten the sense of community and cultural character that had emerged in this area in recent years.”

Developers Alumno say the new public squares will become “key public spaces” while a planned pedestrian route and greenspace on the north side of the Roman wall will “create an area to sit in the sun, with a view towards the Priory and church”.

The plans have proved to be divisive, with cross-party group Colchester Community Voice being vociferous in its opposition.

But Colchester Council bosses have backed the scheme, saying it is the best project to come forward for the site and would provide “a significant capital receipt” for the authority.

The plans are expected to be decided upon in November.