COLCHESTER’S long-awaited Northern Gateway cinema complex scheme has been Brexit.

A commercial property firm tasked with marketing the site next to Colchester United’s stadium said it has struggled to attract restaurants to take up units.

Developer Turnstone Estates had originally said construction would start by the summer with the complex due to open late next year.

But it has now been confirmed work will start towards the end of this year with the scheme opening in 2021.

Turnstone was chosen by land owners Colchester Council to take on the northern part of its Northern Gateway scheme on a 18-acres site.

It is also set to see the opening of a 12-screen Cineworld cinema, an 80-bed Travelodge hotel and leisure facilities.

Ewan Dodds, chief executive of Whybrow, has been marketing remaining units at the site for Turnstone and said lack of confidence from restaurants to commit due to Brexit concerns was to blame.

There are six restaurant units still to be let out.

Work has been taking place to encourage restaurant chains to the site but Mr Dodds said the process had been “complicated”.

He added: “The whole sector has taken a lashing over the years.

“It is Brexit – that is sitting at the heart of uncertainty.

“If you look at Stanway there are restaurants built up there sitting there vacant.

“We are trying to get things sorted out. We are all still working hard to get this to fruition.

“Our clients are working hard with the local authority and we have pre-lettings agreed with major occupiers with the cinema and have got the leisure occupiers agreed.

"We are making good progress, it is just slow progress.”

“There is nothing visible you can see on the site but there is a lot going on in the background – it has been a complicated one.

“Colchester Council, as land owners, are keen as are Turnstone, to get this to fruition.”

Turnstone was chosen by Colchester Council to develop the site in 2015, following a tender process.

A Turnstone spokesman said: “About 80 per cent of the lettable floor space is either let or under offer. In addition, the hotel is let to Travelodge.

“The space remaining is restaurants, which we expect will let as the scheme progresses through construction.

“A new and exciting leisure operator has come forward, which has required re-allocating the space between restaurant and leisure use.

"We hope to be able to make an announcement about their identity shortly.”

Managing director Chris Goldsmith added the restaurant market had been slow. “I think they will come, although the market is not the strongest at the moment,” he said.

ANOTHER other part of the Northern Gateway scheme on land opposite the cinema complex is overseen by Colchester Council owned Amphora Trading Ltd.

It looks set for 350 homes, a new village green, healthcare village and care home as well as business park and underground heating plant.

A Colchester Council spokesman said: “The application is progressing and is likely to be considered by the council’s planning committee in the autumn.”

Previously, in July 2018, planning permission was granted for a Northern Gateway sports hub nearby on land at Cuckoo Farm, to include as sports hall, grass rugby pitches, cycle track and archery and a contractor has been appointed.