Tollgate Village Planning Appeal

Last night residents of Colchester, and other interested parties, had an opportunity to speak at the Tollgate Village planning appeal in the Town Hall’s Moot Hall. Colchester 101 fully supports the Tollgate Village planning application which Colchester Borough Council originally approved then twice rejected, forcing the applicant, Tollgate Partnership, to appeal. Colchester 101 usually tries to remain neutral on local issues, preferring instead to promote people, organisations and events in and around the town, but also giving the council a nudge where necessary, such as our coverage last year of the gaps in our town’s tourism strategy. However, like a large number of Colchester residents we feel so strongly about Tollgate Village, and the benefits we believe it will bring to this fast growing town, that we threw our hat the ring and gave it our full support.

So last night I went along to have my say in front of the government planning inspector Kenneth Barton, legal representatives for the council, the Fenwick department store and others with a major commercial interest in the town centre, Tollgate Partnership and their legal team, and about 100 local residents. In total twenty-five people spoke to support the scheme and only five spoke against it, which included three councillors who are members of the council’s controlling cabinet. Speakers for included local business owners, some based in the town centre, four opposition councillors, and members of the public . I drew the short straw and was first up to speak in front of this packed house. This is the transcript of what I said, a copy of which is with Mr Barton for his perusal. A decision will be made by the Secretary of State on or before 1st August.

My name is Simon Crow and I run a small business in Colchester as well as publishing the popular Colchester 101 blog.

I would like to say the following:

We do not want to be dictated to by Fenwick.

This is our town. The people in this room who have come here to support Tollgate Village, we live here, we bring our families up here, most probably work here, and we do most of our shopping and spend our leisure time here.

We do not want an expensive department store and its associates dictating to us what facilities this town can have in order to protect their own interests at our expense.

This is our town. Not theirs.

I run a business in this town, as do others in this room I’m sure, and nobody is going to stop a competitor setting up down the road from me.

And why should they? Competition is a good thing. It makes everyone raise their game, which is good for consumers.

And we also do not want Colchester Borough Council social engineering our town by denying us choice and forcing us to use the town centre.

I love the town centre and visit it often, but if, as we are told, it is in decline then the council needs to stop blaming those who want to invest in the town and look at the exorbitant business rates and the sky high parking charges for starters.

Sadly, the truth is that the council has no vision for the town centre that they claim will suffer if Tollgate Village goes ahead, so their only answer is to try to force us to use it.

The sad fact is that this council that controls one of the fastest growing boroughs in the country has a small town mentality and they simply cannot see beyond the ends of their collective noses. Instead of having a vision for the town centre they drop to their knees and worship at the altar of Fenwick whilst tugging their forelocks to them in deference.

Thousands of new homes have been built in Colchester over past few years. Thousands. And with little spending on infrastructure to accommodate this fast growing population. We are literally bursting at the seams and Colchester Council have just pushed through plans to build two garden villages with thousands more new homes to come on the outskirts of the town.

One of these, West Tey, is just down the road from Tollgate Village. Yet the council have rejected £70 million of much needed inward investment on infrastructure right on its doorstep. Not only would Tollgate Village provide leisure and retail facilities for this new community, it would also be the source of many much needed jobs in future years.

Every weekend people head out of Colchester in their droves to shop at Lakeside, Chelmsford, Bluewater, Freeport and Westfield because they offer choice we just don’t have here. With Tollgate Village we can keep some of that money in Colchester, along with the money spent by all the new people who will move here over the coming years.

In fact, we should not even be thinking of Tollgate Village and the Town Centre as separate entities. Instead we should think of them both as essential parts of Colchester’s offering, because I believe that with Tollgate Village, with a clear vision for the town centre, and with the council’s leisure and sporting plans at Northern Gateway, we will have all the ingredients to make Colchester a major regional leisure and retail attraction that will bring people here in their droves from all over East Anglia.

We will be the pride of the region.

Yes, Tollgate Village could be the making of this town.

Surely that is better than trying to make time stand still and control what people do?

Please don’t do what Colchester Borough Council and Fenwick and their friends want you to do and deny us and our children choice. Please give us that choice and let Colchester and its people be masters of our own destiny.

Simon Crow



Tollgate Village

A lot has been said in the past four days about Colchester Borough Council’s decision to reject the planning application for the Tollgate Village retail and leisure development near the existing Tollgate shopping centre. There has been a storm of protest and genuine anger on social media, and the Daily Gazette newspaper readers’ comments, from Colchestrians who clearly believe that it is just the kind of development the town needs and feel wronged that it was rejected.

Tollgate Village

Enough has already been written, and is still being written, about the how’s and why’s of the council rejecting the development at their planning meeting last Thursday evening so I don’t want to go back over that and point fingers again because when I had the idea for Colchester 101 a few years ago, originally in print form but now online, my vision was that it should be a vehicle for positivity about Colchester, its people, its organisations and clubs, music and arts scenes, and events. If you want to see my personal ‘no holds barred’ opinion though you can see it on my own blog HERE. A staggering 3000 of you have already read it in the three days since I posted it.

Looking at this from a positive Colchester 101 perspective, and now throwing our hat into the ring to join the online debate, this town needs Tollgate Village. It also needs Northern Gateway. And it needs the town centre to be dragged out of its current decline. I’m not in the business of knocking Colchester, I think it’s a fantastic place, but we have been slipping behind our neighbours in recent years and it’s about time we played catch up.

So many of us jump in our cars these days and head to Ipswich or Braintree to go to the cinema, and Lakeside, Bluewater, Chelmsford and Braintree to shop. Why? Because they offer something we don’t have here… ease of parking, variety and choice.

Colchester is expanding at breakneck speed but with little in the way of real infrastructure to accommodate the town’s rapidly growing population. The General Hospital is collapsing under the strain of the pressure it is being placed under, our road network can’t cope, and yet the town centre on a Saturday never seems as busy as I remember it years ago even with all these extra people that live here now, and everywhere there are casinos, nail bars and charity shops where there used to be retailers.

Colchester isn’t the shopping destination I remember it to be when I was growing up that people came down the A12 from Chelmsford to shop in. We once had Marks & Spencer’s UK flagship store, but not anymore. Now it’s the other way round, they head to Chelmsford and other retail destinations. But with Tollgate Village, and the council’s own preferred scheme Northern Gateway, we could become a major regional leisure and retail destination, and get some of that money that is currently spent in Chelmsford etc spent here instead, and attract people to come here from across Essex and Suffolk. The town centre can benefit from that too with a bit of joined up thinking. Look at how Chelmsford reinvented itself when it pedestrianised its high street a few years ago, creating a pleasant shopping environment that people from all over the surrounding area want to visit, along with its two indoor shopping malls and covered market. This pedestrianised shopping area is home to the town’s outdoor market stalls, spread along the street rather than huddled together on one side like in Colchester, and during warmer weather it plays host to community and charity events, local brass and silver bands, and street performers.

We could have the same. Look at the success of the Light and Shades Family Fun Day on Halloween when the High Street was closed for the day. The street was packed all day. In my opinion we need to find a way to permanently pedestrianise the High Street and emulate what Chelmsford has done. I know the Roman wall might cause some problems, and there are the issues of disabled access, buses and deliveries to contend with, but other towns find ways of solving problems and we can too. Instead of finding reasons why we can’t do it we should be looking for ways we can do it. In my business Media48 we don’t say to our customers “We can’t do that, there’s obstacles in our way” we get on with it and find a way to make it happen. Colchester Borough Council needs to start – and I apologise for the cliché – thinking outside the box. No correct that, thinking like there isn’t a box. Oh, and reduce the extortionate cost of parking in the town centre because if you want people to shop here then don’t rob them blind to park their cars.

Tollgate Village

We could have Tollgate Village, Northern Gateway AND a vibrant and prosperous town centre. We need to play to our strengths and use our unique history to full effect in the town centre. Market this old town of ours properly as a tourist destination instead of just focussing on the castle, as awe-inspiring as it is. Get people coming to our town to shop, and compete with the likes of Freeport and Chelmsford, whether that’s for our town centre experience, or leisure and retail with choices like Tollgate Village and Northern Gateway.

Putting our town firmly on the leisure and retail map could also have a knock on effect. It would make it more attractive to potential major employers looking for a location for new headquarters, regional offices, manufacturing plants etc, because these are what their potential and future employees are looking for before considering relocating to a new town. You never know, we could one day actually replace the likes of Royal London and Guardian Direct, creating more jobs and bringing more money into the town.

I don’t want to be writing in another ten years about how much further this town has slipped behind our neighbours, I want to be living in the town that, just like when I was growing up here, our neighbours want to come to because it has the best shopping and leisure facilities around. We can become a regional force to be reckoned with, but to achieve that we need developments such as Tollgate Village. If you feel the same way as I do and you haven’t already done so, then please sign the petition that was created by Twitter user and champion of this town @colchesterviews. We can’t force this development to happen, but if the petition gets over 1800 signatures it should force a full council debate to discuss the matter.

You can find the petition HERE.






Simon Crow