Colchester Borough Council Planning Committee unanimously passed the application to convert the old Police Station along Queen Street into a Cultural Hub on Thursday evening – but with some strict conditions that may stall the cultural regeneration further still.
It’s no easy ride, this Cultural Quarter, Comrades.
Up for debate at the Town Hall was Application No: 122272:
“Alterations, demolitions and repairs to existing building, including change of use to creative business centre and cafe.”
The applicant was CBC, and the planning authority was CBC – which leads to either a turkeys most definitely voting for Christmas line, or a strict scrutiny to make sure that those squeaky bums won’t ever need wiping.
After over half an hour of debate about accessibility, thankfully it was nazel gazing self-scrutiny that won the day.
Cllr Terry Sutton summed it up by stating:
“If this was a private applicant, would we allow it to go through? We have to be seen to be fair.”
CBC Case Officer Alistair Day introduced the application for 37 Queen Street, recognising that the building is currently looking a little tired. Minimal change to the front was mentioned, as was the plan to remove the conservatory and restore the back of the building to its former glory.
Some stunning old photographs during the Police Station heyday were on display. Where once stood a green and pleasant garden now sits a disused temporary bus station.
With a recommendation for approval, it was expected that this would be a clear-cut case. The esteemed members of the CBC Planning Committee would be “seen to be fair,” before rubber-stamping the next stage of cultural progress.
The debate got off to a good start with Cllr Nick Barlow saying:
“This is another piece in the cultural regeneration jigsaw. It is going a lot slower than we would have hoped for, but it is good to see that it has now gone before Planning. This is a very good scheme. It breathes life into the building. We need this cultural space – there is a burgeoning creative economy in Colchester.”
Cllr Nigel Offen started off with some praise, before being slightly sidetracked by the detail in the report:
“These are much needed facilities in the town centre. I got halfway through the paper though and lost the will to live.”
“These should have been signed and dated. Who wrote this report?”
The temporary brakes on the pace of cultural regeneration came first from Cllr Gerard Oxon:
“We need to have a debate about the lift. I am concerned that this doesn’t reach the second floor.”
Cllr Sutton said:
“We have not really investigated this. We were unable to see this during the site visit because tenants are on the top floor.”
Cllr Jon Manning suggested:
“Would it be prudent if we added the condition of a hearing loop as well? The entire building should be DDA compliant.”
Making reference to CBC being both the applicant and the planning authority, Cllr Offen said:
“Residents will be expecting us to set a good example.”
The final word came from Cllr Oxon:
“Would it be reasonable to add the condition that the building must be DDA compliant until it is occupied?”
It turned out to be not only to be reasonable, but also a stated condition on passing the planning application. The old Police House must not only be DDA compliant, but also have a working lift servicing each floor before it is allowed to be occupied.
No one ever said that cultural regeneration would be easy. All those blue-sky architectural plans may look pretty on the eye, but there’s no point in planning some cultural utopia in Sunny Colch unless the community can actually use the space.
And so the quest for culture in Colchester continues to gather pace – with a little common sense added into the equation as well.