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