Planning in Colchester has been thrown into turmoil after a Government Planning Inspector found that the Council blundered in refusing the Planning Application for Tollgate Village. The Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government accepted the Inspector’s findings that the application complied with the National Planning Policy Framework, allowed the appeal and granted planning permission.

The successful proposal at Tollgate is for a mixed-use development, comprising leisure, including a cinema, and variety of retail outlets, with associated parking including a multi-storey car park, landscaping and public realm improvements, and improved access to the A12.

This decision brings to a head a series of strange and highly dubious decisions made by the Liberal-Democrat / Labour controlled coalition that runs the Council, and questions their competence and integrity in planning the long-term future of the Borough.

Firstly the Council heavily promoted the Northern Gateway commercial development, despite it being contrary to the Council’s planning policy and in direct competition with the Town Centre. The Council owns the Northern Gateway site, so is in line to make a very handsome profit from the development.

Last year the Council refused planning permission for Stane Park at Tollgate, a small private-sector leisure development in direct competition with the Council’s much larger Northern Gateway scheme. This resulted in a highly critical report by another Government Planning Inspector, who allowed the development on appeal. In essence, the Council was found to be illegally operating two different local planning regimes, one for its own land, and a different much harsher approach to land in the private sector. This is totally unacceptable and contrary to the definition of a fair policy-based planning system as required in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Then finally the Council twice rejected the Tollgate Village planning application on the flimsiest of pretexts, in a doomed attempt to protect its potential income stream from the Northern Gateway project.

Cllr Lewis Barber, Conservative spokesman on Council Finance, explained: “The cost of these shenanigans continues to rise. It now transpires that the estimate published by the Council for its own expenditure of £159,618 incurred in the Tollgate Village planning appeal covered only the fees for its external lawyers, planning consultants and hospitality. Following detailed scrutiny by Conservative Councillors, it has now come to light that a further £24,498 of CBC planning officer time was also expended on the appeal, but omitted from the published figures, bringing the current total to £184.116 .

There is however one fragment of optimism in this series of planning disasters. In a magnanimous bid to restore good relations with the Borough Council, the Tollgate Partnership although winning its planning appeal has agreed not to pursue the Council for costs or damages. This is indeed the only glimmer of good news for council taxpayers in this otherwise tawdry business."

Conservative Group Leader, Cllr Dennis Willetts, said "Colchester has had enough political manipulation of the Strategic Planning System by the Liberal Democrat and Labour Coalition. They have abandoned a fair and transparent planning system, replacing it with a regime designed solely to bolster the Council’s seriously flagging finances.

Dennis Willetts concluded “Colchester has been severely embarrassed and badly let down by the controlling Liberal-democrat and Labour Coalition. I therefore call on Cllr Paul Smith and Cllr Tim Young, respectively the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council, to take full responsibility for this chaotic mess, resign from the Cabinet and hang their heads in shame.”

Conservatives pledge to operate fair and transparent planning system regardless of who owns the land

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