THE future of Colchester town centre hangs in the balance.

An inspector’s call on whether to approve plans for the former bus station site will be a defining moment.

This isn’t sensationalism; this is how pivotal the St Botolph’s Quarter site is to our High Street.

Get it wrong and Priory Walk will continue to struggle, empty units will continue to haunt the area (there are still two empty restaurant units at the Curzon) and the redevelopment of the former Co-op building in Long Wyre Street will fall flat.

Get it right and the area of town dubbed the Cultural Quarter by campaigners and the Creative Quarter by councillors will belatedly live up to its name.

That heritage, that imagination, that buzz will spread across the town centre.

The inquiry has, for the most part, been anchored in the mundane world of planning law.

Does the application conform to disability legislation? Does the development “enhance the setting” of the town centre?

No-one is to blame, the correct boxes have to be ticked after all, but the whole process is massively missing the point.

Colchester town centre’s destiny is at stake and we’re mired in rules and regulations when this is an issue of vision and passion.

The emotion the application has aroused couldn’t be further away from nimbyism, anti-development or even anti-student. It’s not even anti-Alumno (the developer behind the scheme).

Every single person involved in the campaign or who runs a business in the town centre wants something built on the site and accepts it will include flats.

Admittedly, it is not a straightforward site to redevelop. A previous council report even alluded to “high levels of abnormal costs”.

It is likely firms weren’t queuing up to take on a relatively small town centre plot so close to a school and a Roman Wall.

But most borough councillors will admit, privately in any case, that the deal struck with the developer wasn’t great...£980,000 for a 250-year lease if you need reminding.

Were they just happy a developer was willing to invest and attract even more investment?

And no-one at the council has said it is a case of: “It’s Alumno or nothing.”

I would like to think with all the expertise at the town hall and all of the creativity on the site’s doorstep (Firstsite, the Minories, Curzon, 15 Queen Street to name but a few) that something aspirational, unique or even just interesting could be put forward.

I’m not suggesting a performance space. Colchester has enough of those (blimey, the Mercury Theatre is in the midst of an £9.6 million revamp, Firstsite has plenty of room and Colchester Arts Centre is still pulling the crowds).

I’m not suggesting we scrap plans for student accommodation either. After all, I can’t believe a developer would propose building university digs if there wasn’t a call for it. There clearly is.

I’m not even suggesting we kill off the hotel. If Travelodge wants to invest in our town centre, great.

But what’s the centrepiece of this development? Where’s the focal point? What’s the hook?

Simple. There isn’t one.

How about designing the development around an exciting and expanding local business like a brewery, dance studio or gymnastics school?

You can still have student flats and a hotel (perhaps they will just have to be built higher).

How about building fewer apartments but making sure they reflect the importance and heritage of the area?

How about getting interested groups, like Colchester Civic Society, involved at the design stage and make sure it is a development residents will be proud of.

The question the planning inquiry needs to answer is this: Can Colchester do better than what’s on the table?