The Planning Committee at Colchester Borough Council granted unanimously on Thursday evening the application by the University of Essex for a multi-story car park on a site close to the existing Sports Centre. Conditional to the agreement is that £250,000 of Section 106 money that was put aside for the Knowledge Gateway will now be borrowed to fund a cycling path between the University and Wivenhoe.
Even after an hour of debate at the Town Hall, confusion remained amongst some councillors. The apolitical CBC Planning Officer had to remind the Committee just prior to voting that they weren’t deciding upon planning permission to build the car park. Instead the decision being made was to agree in principle to press ahead with the legal process, prior to planning permission being formally granted.
The meeting started with the Planning Officer explaining the background for the application:
“The first planning application was refused. In the intervening period we have held further negotiations with the University. We are now recommending that this application be approved.
The main change is in the structure. It is important that is was strengthened and planted into the ground. There is also a relocation so that some green space is left between the car park and the Sports Centre.
The reason that we are now recommending this application is because of overspill from Car Park A. We agree with the applicant that there is a need for additional spaces. As part of the recommendation, a link will be provided between campus and the University. We have secured the necessary funds.”
Speaking against the application was Richard Monk from the Colchester Cycling Campaign:
“I have been running Cycling Champion schemes in Colchester for three years now. We have got 3,000 local people cycling, many of them for the first time. This is a real achievement.
This application goes against CBC policy. Colchester has set the standard in encouraging cycling. We are one of only 19 towns with cycling status. We would like to see a transport assessment and the University’s Travel Plan being made more robust. The Wivenhoe link needs to be completed before the process of shifting traffic management.”
Andrew Nightingale, the Estates Manager at the University spoke in favour of the application:
“More misinformation about this application has been shared than any other that the University has put forward in the past twenty years. Your Planning Officers understand how we function. The University has addressed your concerns. In the past 20 years there has been no increase in car park provision. £250,000 is available for Wivenhoe immediately.”
Also speaking in favour of the application was Cllr Julie Young, the ward councillor for nearby St Andrew’s, as well as the local representative on Essex County Council:
“The last time that I was speaking at Planning was for the University’s Meadows accommodation. You will remember that not a single car park space was included. If you look at the wider community, this has been an issue for me at St Andrew’s. Students and staff park in roads. This application needs to be looked at in the context of other developments such as the Meadows and Quays accommodation.
Wivenhoe wants a cycling link. This is too expensive to deliver. The new budget for Colchester from Essex County Council is £1m. Can I access this for the cycle path? No I can’t.”
The twelve members of the Planning Committee were then given the opportunity to ask questions to the Planning Officer, as well as to make observations ahead of the vote.
Cllr Jon Manning, the ward councillor for Wivenhoe Cross stated:
“I get phone calls from residents saying that students are parked outside their houses. We need a car park. My issue is about access to it. Throwing cyclists towards the car park will only lead to conflict.
I would like to see the Boundary Road barriers being moved towards the top of the road. This would encourage more people to cycle. It would act as a deterrent for Wivenhoe staff or students to drive in, as they would then have to go round in a long circle down Clingoe Hill. I would like to see a deferment on this application until we can sort out the University’s Travel Plan.”
Cllr Peter Chillingworth added:
“Time has moved on. The University has a huge number of students. The overspill is unsightly and dangerous. This proposal addresses it. Multi-story buildings are never pretty.
I have concern about the Travel Plan. Twice as many permits are granted.”
Cllr Nick Barlow seeked clarification from the Planning Officer over a number of issues:
“What timescale will it take for the green wall to grow? Where does the cycle path finish – Boundary Road or on campus? When will the Knowledge Gateway S106 money be paid back?”
Questions asked, questions answered. Sort of.
The green wall will establish itself over time. The S106 money is a legal requirement to be paid back. The Travel Plan can be revised to make sure that it is robust enough.
Cllr Steve Ford of Wivenhoe Quay drew upon his hyperlocal knowledge of the area:
“Cyclists leaving Wivenhoe need all the help that they can get. We have got to design an environment that will let cyclists do this. Is the cycle path on our wish list, or are we going to guarantee that this will happen?”
Cllr Manning once again called for a deferment:
“The University is a seven day operation. The safety of cyclists has to be paramount. This is why I am calling for a deferment.”
It was only at this point that the Planning Officer seemed to clarify exactly what the Planning Committee was voting upon. Planning Permission to build wouldn’t be granted at this meeting. What was being decided was the process to press ahead with the legal agreement.
The application went to the vote, and despite suggestions of a deferment, it was passed unanimously 12:0 in favour of the University.