CAMPAIGNERS against controversial student accommodation plans were outraged to hear they had been approved.

Colchester High Steward Sir Bob Russell strongly criticised the planning inspector’s decision and was scathing of those who supported the scheme.

Although the application was rejected unanimously by the council’s planning committee, an appeal by the developers was granted.

Sir Bob said: “This is an appalling planning disaster which hundreds of people objected to, notably Colchester Civic Society. This is a blunder of monumental proportions.

“This scheme was clearly not in Colchester’s best interests both financially and in terms of good planning.

“It showed a total disregard to the importance of Colchester’s historic past and the sensitivity of the conservation area and the proximity of the Roman Wall.”

Colchester councillor Gerard Oxford also slammed council staff for not giving due weight to disability legislation.

The planning inspector himself raised concerns about how Alumno had not consulted with the community enough around accessibility issues.

The report said: “The concerns expressed by disability groups were clearly not adequately addressed at the application stage and yet in a matter of days at the inquiry a much more disabled-friendly solution than that considered by the council was arrived at.

“If the engagement with the community had followed the spirit of the framework’s advice to be proactive and effective, this matter could have been fully resolved much earlier.”

Mr Oxford said he plans to make a formal complaint against planning officers.

He said: “Quite clearly this planning application should never have seen the light of day, never mind allowed to get to the point where they could appeal.

“Planning officers had already acknowledged in public it was impossible for the ramp to comply with disability legislation.

“I have contacted the monitoring officer and I will issue a formal complaint about the planning officers.

“In my mind it’s a failure.”

Responding to the claims a spokesman for Colchester Council said they were aware of the complaint.

They said: “We are confident throughout the application process our officers have worked appropriately within prescribed guidelines.

“However, we are aware of Councillor Oxford’s concerns and will consider any complaint in line with our normal policies and procedures.”

Dorian Kelly, one of the leading lights in the campaign against the plans, said he was hugely disappointed.

He said: “Obviously, along with the hundreds of people wo supported us, I am gutted the planning inspector couldn’t see beyond the bare bones of the law.

“It’s understandable he has his guidelines but there are so many cogent reasons of sustainability and the future of Colchester.

“Some will be celebrating or at least smirking with quiet satisfaction. We will not.”

Alan Short, another campaigner, said he was not surprised at the result.

He said: “We need to ask ourselves how did we get in this state? It is clear, despite denials, the development was a done deal before the one and only consultation with the public in July 2018.

“The claim for the benefit to the town is threadbare. The idea tourists will be attracted by the building of another hotel in Colchester is laughable.

“If we are to prevent future inappropriate developments we need more openness, more accountability and less power in the hands of council officer.

“We need greater involvement of the community as a whole and the whole council.”