THE decision to refuse plans for a huge out-of-town shopping and leisure development have been described as a sad day for Colchester.

Colchester Council’s planning committee voted to reject the Tollgate Village application, just two months after it provisionally approved it.

Crucially, two councillors brought in to replace members who could not attend the meeting voted against the plans.

Councillors were concerned the application deviated from their planning policies, which look to prioritise the town centre and protect the site in question, in Stanway, for “employment” use, not shops.

The application was refused by eight votes to four after a 2h 15m meeting.

Daniel Watts and Jayne Gee, directors of applicants the Tollgate Partnership, said they are extremely disappointed for the people of the town who have supported the vision.

Their statement said: “This is a sad day for Colchester.

The members have decided the people of Colchester are not worth listening to. Instead they have stuck by corporates who are only interested in increasing their portfolios.

Braintree and Witham Times:

  • Jayne Gee and Daniel Watts

“We feel the town is now worse and will face even fiercer competition from neighbouring towns which seem to always be several steps ahead of us.”

Kevin Bentley, county councillor for Stanway and Pyefleet, also criticised the decision.

He said: “It’s a disastrous decision for the economy of Colchester.

“We are putting up a big sign saying we are closed for business.

“We are a rapidly expanding town, one of the fastest, and people require retail facilities to reflect that.

“When a developer offers that, you are foolish to turn it down.”

Braintree and Witham Times:

  • Last night's meeting

Priti Patel, Witham MP whose constituency includes Stanway, tweeted during our live coverage of the meeting.

She said: “Colchester borough can have a prosperous and strong town centre and Tollgate Village, both can happen.

“I am appalled to see Colchester Council blocking jobs, investment and growth.”

Tollgate Village’s plans included shops, restaurants and a cinema on 20 acres of land.

Planning officers had recommended refusal of the scheme.

Vincent Pearce, Colchester Council’s major development specialist, told the committee the Local Plan says authorities should adopt “a town centre first approach". He said the council should not decide where new retail developments should go until the Local Plan has decided where homes could be built.

Braintree and Witham Times:

He added planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners estimated the town centre would lose £411million in turnover in ten years to Tollgate Village.

Jo Hayes, Lib Dem councillor for the Castle ward, who voted against the application, told the meeting all she has heard is "folksy anecdote" in favour of Tollgate Village.

She said: “I'm not prepared to be part of a decision that is irrational and not following our own procedure."

Double absence was game-changer

THE planning committee’s refusal, two months after provisionally approving the application, was caused by the absence of two key councillors Chairman Jon Manning – on holiday – and deputy Jessica Scott-Boutell – an undisclosed prior engagement – were not at last night’s meeting.

At December’s debate, six councillors voted to provisionally approve the application, including Mr Manning and Miss Scott-Boutell, and six were against it. Mr Manning’s chairman’s casting vote won approval.

The replacements for Mr Manning and Miss Scott- Boutell, Peter Higgins and Julia Havis, voted to refuse the application last night.

With the other councillors sticking to their previous decisions, refusal won the day by eight votes to four.

Gerard Oxford, who voted against, chaired last night’s meeting. Speaking afterwards, he said: “Regardless of howmuch we want investment, we have no choice. The applicant wanted to come to committee rather than wait for the Local Plan.

“You can’t have planning policies and not stick to them.”

Braintree and Witham Times:

  • Gerard Oxford

Roger Buston, Patricia Moore, Pauline Hazell and Brian Jarvis voted in favour of the plans, while Jo Hayes, Julia Havis, Peter Higgins, Mike Lilley, Rosliand Scott, Helen Chuah, Gerard Oxford and Peter Chillingworth voted to refuse them.