A HULKING metal barrier put up in an area of outstanding natural beauty has been described as looking like the Berlin Wall.

Charles Clover, chairman of the Dedham Vale Society, has criticised rail firm bosses for steaming ahead with plans to expand its car park at Manningtree Station.

The ongoing works, which began last summer, are set to provide an additional 226 parking spaces.

But environmentalist Mr Clover said the structure is an eyesore akin to the Berlin Wall and has no place in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

He said: “We all recognise something had to be done about parking provision.

“The worse option was building a permanent car park on the other side of the railway line, on a field which gives arriving passengers a nice rural view.

“As it stands, this great wall of metal is now the gateway to tourists arriving in Constable Country via train and walking to Flatford.”

Mr Clover also challenged whether the structure was legal.

He said: “The previous history to this is they put a first floor on the car park at Manningtree Station about ten years ago.

"We warned Tendring then that it should not be giving the nod to
building a car park under permitted development rights.

"The law has since changed to make that even clearer. Greater Anglia also has a statutory duty to try to conserve and enhance the beauty of the area - which means eyesores like this should be landscaped."

A letter from the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Stour Valley Partnership, addressed to Greater Anglia, and seen by the Gazette, expressed concerns the firm had built the expansion in contravention of planning regulations.

It says the scheme was undertaken under permitted development rights but said the criteria for such rights does not include building car parks.

Mr Clover added: “They avoided the public consultation that could have improved this development.

“Perhaps if this great wall of steel had been put up a couple of feet back from the track it would be possible to cover it up in time with a hedge or ivy might be induced to grow up it.”

The Dedham Vale, comprising the area around the River Stour from Manningtree through to Dedham, is the only area of outstanding natural beauty in Essex and was the inspiration for the world-famous 19th century landscape artist John Constable.

The car park project sees the existing one storey car park being expanded sideways, increasing its size by just under one third and creating an extra 45 spaces.

A boggy patch of land beyond the decked car park has been drained and levelled to create 157 extra spaces.

An additional 20 Blue Badge spaces are being put in place.

A Tendring Council spokesman said the scheme had been carefully examined by planning officers when the authority was notified about the plans.

“Our planning department closely scrutinised this scheme to ensure it did meet the criteria of permitted development and were satisfied it did,” he said.

“This was not a decision which was taken lightly and we do recognise the need to improve parking and access at the station as it is an important transport asset for the district, particularly in the light of housing growth in the area.”

A Greater Anglia spokeswoman added: “We know many of our customers choose to travel to Manningtree Station by car which is why we are improving and expanding the car park.

“So far, 60 temporary spaces have been opened and work has started to expand the decked car park.

“Ultimately there will be over 220 additional spaces once work is completed bringing the total to more than 800.

“We have followed due process and we have permission to construct the car park from Tendring Council through permitted development rights.”

She added: “We have received a letter from the Dedham Vale Society and we will respond to them directly.

“We are making sure the station is ready for future growth by extending the car park and we apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers while the work is ongoing.”

The work is part of a £25 million investment in improving car parks across the country including installing ANPR and adding parking spaces, fitting LED lights and improving CCTV.