THE developer behind hugely controversial £40 million plans to build student flats and a hotel could be invited to go back to the drawing board.

Developer Alumno proposed to build retail units and new public open space in line with the proposed flats and Travelodge on land off Queen Street in Colchester’s so-called Cultural Quarter.

However, Essex County Council has previously put the brakes on the project due to a covenant it holds over the town’s former bus station at the site, which protects it from development.

The Gazette can reveal Essex County Council is now weighing up its options after being offered the chance to purchase the site, with Colchester Council compelled to give the authority first refusal.

Gazette: Space - public green space would be built under Alumno's plansSpace - public green space would be built under Alumno's plans

County Hall now has until next Tuesday to declare whether it intends to buy the land and shape its future or to leave it for Colchester Council to potentially sell to Alumno.

Documents seen by the Gazette show the county council fears Alumno’s proposal is outdated and the land could be put to better use in its hands.

But County Hall is already in the process of creating blueprints for a masterplan for the economic regeneration of Colchester’s town centre, due to be complete by December.

Council bosses now have to decide whether they purchase the land and include it in their vision, or whether they leave its future in the hands of Colchester Council and, potentially, a developer.

Gazette: Hub - the plans seek to regenerate Colchester's town centreHub - the plans seek to regenerate Colchester's town centre

If it gets left to a developer, however, any subsequent plans may not fit in with the masterplan, the council fears.

The documents read: “Whilst the Alumno proposals are well advanced, there is a significant risk they may not represent what the masterplan will consider to be the most appropriate use.

“It may also be the masterplan concludes the Alumno scheme is the best way forward, in which case Essex County Council will be the owner of the land and can negotiate with Alumno directly.

“If the county council acquires the site it will be able to control the future of the site and ensure the Alumno scheme does not prejudice the redevelopment of the site.”

Long-standing opposer of the Alumno scheme, Darius Laws, said the public engagement on the Alumno scheme was “sub-standard”, while the land presents a “huge opportunity”.

He added: “I'm pleased Essex County Council is stepping in to ensure we have serious joined up thinking”.

A spokesman for Colchester Council said: "If Essex County Council decides not to exercise its right to purchase the land under the pre-emption, then the council would be able to proceed with a disposal."