CAMPAIGNERS have threatened to take Colchester Council to the Local Government Ombudsman as the row over a controversial student flats development rumbles on.

Colchester Council is set to use appropriation powers to remove access rights to a strip of land off Queen Street to allow works to begin on Alumno's scheme, which features 336-student flats, a Travelodge hotel, retail units and public open space.

It has said the land “forms part of a larger area of land which the council intends to appropriate for planning purposes in connection with the development”.

Campaigners have hit out at the move, claiming it is premature and proper negotiations have not yet taken place.

Alan Short, who spearheaded the campaign against the unpopular plan, has warned the council he plans to refer it to the Local Government Ombudsman.

He says the authority's cabinet agreed to appropriate land only after further discussion and approval from councillors.

Mr Short said: "As of Friday, the residents with rights of way have been advised of who will be undertaking these negotiations on behalf of the council.

"No negotiations have taken place and there is no public record the cabinet had agreed to vary the decision of June 3."

Complaints over the move have continued to flood in from objectors to the controversial scheme, which was rejected by the planning committee but approved on appeal.

Sir Bob Russell, Colchester's High Steward, said: "There is a serious lack of democratic accountability in what is going on.

"This scenario is without precedent in my 57 years association with and knowledge of Colchester Borough Council, which I find very disturbing."

Dorian Kelly added: "Please remove this appropriation and any future appropriations and instead recommend the developers take it up the matter of a covenant directly with Essex County Council with whom they have the dispute and the matter of the rights of way with the rights holders directly."

Colchester Council said it was "duty-bound" to move plans forward but it would "remain sensitive" to the views of those affected.

A spokesman said: “The Alumno report due to be considered by cabinet on September 2 has been deferred so negotiations with those parties whose rights over the site are being temporarily suspended can be fully progressed and hopefully agreed.

"It will also enable any representations regarding the proposed appropriation of the open space to be considered.

“The appropriation of land, including the open space, does not impact on these ongoing negotiations.

"Cabinet will subsequently receive a report at its October meeting that will provide details of the negotiations and whether appropriation of the land is required to enable the development to proceed."