NEGOTIATIONS have started over the release of a covenant on Colchester’s so-called Cultural Quarter, Essex County Council has revealed.

County Hall holds a covenant over the town's old bus station site, off Queen Street, which restricts its use.

Campaigners hoped this would help stop the development in its tracks after Alumno's plans were approved by Planning Inspector Melvyn Middleton last year.

In January, council leader David Finch announced a review of this covenant after lobbying by the town's MP Will Quince.

But the council now says negotiations are now underway between Alumno and the authority.

An Essex County Council spokesperson added: “Our response has been impacted by the coronavirus lockdown.”

Alumno’s plans, which include 336-student rooms, an 87-bed Travelodge, retail units and open space, were approved on appeal after being rejected by Colchester Council’s planning committee.

The controversial application drew almost unprecedented opposition from campaigners from across the political spectrum including from Mr Quince and Colchester’s Conservative Group.

However Colchester Council signed a 250-year lease agreement meaning it would receive a one-off payment of £980,881 if planning approval was agreed at any stage.

As part of the agreement the council was under obligation to use its "best endeavours" to push for the covenant to be lifted.

On Wednesday an update is set to be given to Colchester Council's cabinet on the "informal negotiations" with landowners in the area.

A report states: "This is a first step to securing the land in a form where development can be undertaken and is free of third-party access rights during construction."

If negotiations are unsuccessful the council can seek to appropriate the land for planning purposes, but landowners would be due compensation.

The report adds: "The proposal is a major multi-million pound investment into the town centre at a time when the economy is severely impacted on as a result of the Covid-19 virus and associated recession."