PLANS to convert Colchester’s iconic Jumbo water tower into a penthouse, flats, a restaurant and offices have been rejected by councillors.

George Braithwaite’s designs for the Grade II* listed building were narrowly defeated at Colchester Council’s planning committee meeting, despite planners’ advice they should go ahead.

In a vote which went down to the wire, seven councillors voted to refuse the application, while five voted to approve it. In total 27 residents and five national societies objected to the scheme to convert the colossal water tower into ten floors, with a central staircase and inset glass windows between its supporting legs. The tower, which dates back to 1882, was last used in 1984.

Other opponents included Colchester MP Bob Russell and the Balkerne Tower Trust, which was set up in 1996 with the aim of preserving the building and turning it into a tourist attraction.

Its chairman, Brian Light, said: “These applications sweep aside local and national planning policies, strip Jumbo of everything of historic interest and cram this unique two-star listed building full of things Colchester has anyway.”

He was backed by ward councillor Henry Spyvee, who said: “Jumbo was built by Colchester people with Colchester bricks.

“It produced huge public health benefits. It came to be loved by Colchester. We have a chance now to own and preserve it.

“I cannot guarantee Mr Light’s plan will succeed, but its chance of success is where it should be – in the hands of the people of Colchester and district.”

Planners had said the scheme should go ahead, even though it would harm the building’s heritage.

They said the benefit of converting the Victorian water tower, the last remaining one in Britain, outweighed the damage that would be done to its character. But Liberal Democrats disagreed.

Councillor Jon Manning said: “We only get one chance to ruin our heritage. This is what we would be doing tonight if we accepted this.

“We would ruin the heritage and character of Jumbo.”

But Conservative councillors said they supported the scheme.

Dennis Willetts said: “It is a disgrace a building such as this is not being used. It’s falling into decay and we are being told how this heritage asset is now at risk.

“This is a sympathetic development which will change marginally the nature of our beloved Jumbo, but it has to be done, otherwise we will be here in 27 years looking at a pile of bricks.”