THE leader of Colchester Council has admitted the proposed Tollgate Village site would be better suited to leisure than employment.

One of the reasons the application was refused was because the land is designated for “employment”, which does not include shops.

Lib Dem Paul Smith said: “We need to think about what needs to be done with the former Sainsbury’s site.

“I would have had no problems with the leisure aspects of it.

“It’s not really a great place for employment because it is surrounded by so much retail.

“Maybe that could be looked at to see if it could fit in with the overall strategy of retail, leisure and jobs.”

Mr Smith refuted claims the formation of the planning committee made a difference to its decision.

He said: “I suspect it wouldn’t have affected the decision. The officers made a very strong case for why it was in the best interest of everyone to reject the application.

“It wasn’t a party-political decision, it went across party boundaries.

“Whatever side lost, there would be complaints.”

In reaction to Priti Patel’s criticism, he said: “Her comments are unfair to all of the businesses and entrepreneurs in Colchester that have run so successfully over the last few years.

“Priti Patel should recognise Colchester Council has a very good agenda for growth and one part of that looked at which area should have what sort of development.

“Why should we change a successful policy?”

Mr Smith insisted the council is not biased towards its own the Northern Gateway development, which includes plans for leisure facilites, restaurants and cinema, near the community stadium.

He said the idea of developing the site in north Colchester was approved independently.

He said: “If the independent planning inspectorate thought the Local Plan was designed to favour the council, they would have thrown it out.”

Mr Smith expects the Tollgate Partnership to appeal.

Jayne Gee and Daniel Watts, of Tollgate Partnership, said: “We will be considering our next steps very carefully and the decision to appeal, go back to the drawing board or simply stick with the status quo has yet to be decided.

“We will also be watching closely at how Colchester Council consider the application for Northern Gateway on its own land, the borough’s number one employment site, that does not have permission for the proposals, such as a cinema.

“We are sure they will be as impartial as they have been with the Tollgate Village application.”

A Colchester Council spokesman said the future of the Tollgate Village site, owned by the Tollgate Partnership, will be reviewed with the applicants over the coming months, as part of the Local Plan consultation process.

He said: “As the land is allocated in the adopted Local Plan for employment purposes, we would support the Tollgate Partnership coming forward with proposals which fit with this allocation.”