* Column: Colchester MP Will Quince has reservations about the Alumno student flats scheme and would rather see a more exciting development that captures the imagination of the people of Colchester.

COLCHESTER securing £19.2million as part of the Government’s Town’s Fund is truly fantastic news.

When it comes to regeneration, we all want to maximise opportunities to ensure Colchester gets the very best, whether that’s retail, restaurants, heritage or arts and cultural attractions.

This has led to me thinking about the proposed Alumno scheme on the land off Queen Street, owned by Colchester Council.

From the outset, there was a lack of sufficient public consultation on this and the feeling among residents that they have been ignored by the council.

This includes the residents that live in the immediate vicinity that will be worst affected.

Like many residents, I have also been left confused and frustrated by the £1million that the council has agreed for the lease with Alumno for 250 years.

This equates to £4,000 per annum, which is especially low when compared with other prime town centre development sites on a square footage comparison.

I also question the need for a 250-year lease, which seems unprecedented locally.

This represents poor value for money for Colchester taxpayers.

From a design perspective, the proposed development does nothing to complement Firstsite, the multi-million-pound art gallery designed by internationally-renowned architect Rafael Vinoly, which in itself is a piece of art.

I am concerned that the development neglects our heritage and risks piling through some 32 square metres of Roman archaeology.

Gazette: Will Quince. Picture: Nikki Powell

The council could have made a strong argument to revisit the St Botolph’s Regeneration Masterplan, a point even more salient given the rapid changing face of high streets which has been accelerated by the pandemic.

I remain concerned by the proposal to significantly impact on the aesthetics of the 2,000-year-old Grade I listed scheduled ancient monument - our Roman town wall - with the installation of an access ramp.

This prime town centre site represents an opportunity to bring something of greater value to our town centre.

Once this site is built on, there is no second chance.

I look to historic destinations like Bath, Lincoln, Norwich and even in York where, not happy with just a Viking-themed visitor attraction, they are now seeking to create a Roman-themed quarter.

We could and should be able to attract this kind of development and investment for Colchester and I make no apology for refusing to settle for what I believe to be an underwhelming proposal for this prime town centre site that offers little public benefit.

From a legal perspective, I have been deeply concerned at Colchester Council looking to take legal action in an attempt to override the restrictive covenant in favour of Essex County Council and other holders of third party rights in order to fulfil their legal obligations to Alumno.

It is worth reminding ourselves the restrictive covenant was put in place to ensure the future of the land was to benefit Colchester and Colchester residents.

I do not believe this test is met by the proposed Alumno development and I believe public opinion is with me on this.

Thankfully, Essex County Council shares my ambition and optimism for the site, which is why I have been reassured by its decision to refuse to lift the restrictive covenant they hold over the land and its willingness to work with Colchester Council and our wider community to explore more exciting options for the site that will capture the imagination of the people of Colchester.

I hope and trust that a resolution can be found.

In my view, this resolution should not involve the proposed Alumno development proceeding in its current form.