c1_brbgxuaabnfh-1This week I had the honour to speak at the Tollgate Village appeal public inquiry held by Planning inspector Kenneth Barton at the Town Hall with a decision on the plans to be made by spring 2017. They are then “rubber-stamped” by Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid in the summer of 2017.

If the decision to allow Tollgate Village is granted, work could start in 2018.

Gazette coverage of the appeal

Have Your Say

Send in your comments before this Tuesday 17th January 2017 to the inspector.

Email Leanne.palmer@pins.gsi.gov.uk and use ref: APP/A1530/W/16/3147039 – Land North and South of Tollgate West

Below is my full speech. I had to omit a few paragraphs on the evening as we were restricted to only 5 minutes speaking time, however copies were provided to all parties on the evening including the Planning inspector Kenneth Barton.

Introduction

My name is Jeremy Hagon, I have lived in Colchester for the majority of my life. I grew up in Stanway and my youngest child goes to a school in Stanway.

I am here this evening to lend my voice of support for the much needed Tollgate Village investment, to be built in Stanway.

I would like to start by saying Tollgate Village will contribute hugely to the borough’s economy. Tollgate Village will help Colchester Town Centre prosper. It will complement the other daily proposed regeneration plans and be delivered in a much shorter space of time, better serving the needs of the local people.

Tollgate Village will attract visitors by walking, cycling, taxi, bus and car. The same as most modern day retail environments do today.

A minority have argued Tollgate Village will “kill off” the Town Centre. They have said it will “suck the Town Centre dry”.

I believe this to be completely untrue. These phrases are simply used to scare and intimidate.

I very rarely shop in Colchester Town Centre. I find the parking horrendous and overpriced and I will not use the Park and Ride either as it is also too expensive and too much hassle. I will admit though, when I bring my 6 year old into the town for a haircut during the week, the only saving grace is the open air car park at Vineyard Gate.

It will be a sad day to see the loss of this car park when the Council begins work on this small plot of land. The only reasonably located parking area for a quick stop in the town.

So, where do I shop you ask? Well, mainly online on Amazon, Sainsbury’s, Chelmsford Retail Park and Chelmsford Town – occasionally Braintree Freeport and Tollgate.

I visit Chelmsford quite often with my family. We pay for up to 3 hours parking at a reasonable rate and enjoy shopping in a clean, vibrant and inviting town with modern maintained toilet facilities, coffee shops, undercover shopping centres and a pedestrianised high street.

We also visit the retail park outside Chelmsford Town Centre on the way back, normally a quick visit to TJMaxx and Costa, or maybe to grab a Pizza at Pizza hut. But this is not normally our primary destination.

The new Bond Street development lead by retailer John Lewis has attracted many visitors from Colchester and surrounding areas. It’s a shame the possibility of John Lewis entering Colchester did not progress as this would surely have had a similar effect.

I don’t go to the cinema that often, the last movie I saw was Star Wars and drove to Ipswich with a friend to see the movie in IMAX 3D. It was an amazing film! It’s a shame we don’t have a cinema that offers reasonably priced tickets, comfortable seating and a well-lit, free car park.

Those responsible for the growth of the Colchester Town Centre seem to continuously invest money in areas of the town that seem to return very little back to the local economy. First Site seems to have had so much money invested in it, so does the Murcury Theatre.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with promoting the arts, but why wasn’t there some thought into creating an arts district near the Murcury Theatre when they considered building First Site? They could have developed Jumbo at the same time!

Without first removing the existing barriers the town has, we are going to find it hard to attract new visitors and to engage positively with the local community.

Even if the council do build a shiny new complex at Vineyard Gate, it’s going to be so hard to convince people to not visit Chelmsford, Ipswich or Braintree when visitors are faced with dirty streets, non-working street lighting, expensive parking and a council management team that seem to have little understanding of what people really need from today’s retail environment.

The Park and Rides scheme operated by Essex County Council is a huge investment for Colchester Town Centre, but unfortunately its pricing scheme is wrong and is underused. High Street parking – the most accessible car park for Colchester run by NCP on Nunns Road is also way too expensive.

The remaining car parks owned by Colchester Council are in dire need of modernisation. They are quite a walk from the Town Centre itself, hard for those who are unable to make the distance easily due to the many inclines Colchester has and the walk into town takes you on a journey across many main roads. Not ideal for a quick stop to grab some lunch or to buy a quick birthday present.

Yesterday I needed to visit the Town Centre for just an hour. From Butt Road by car it took me 25 minutes to finally reach the High Street. After finding a suitable parking space, paying and displaying my ticket and walking to the High Street – I was rushing to get back to my car as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t get a ticket!

Why would I or others want to travel to Colchester to shop, eat and visit the many tourist attractions the Town Centre has to offer when not only are you restricted in your visit length by having to “pay and display” but also having to walk back to your car to an unsafe and quite often, unsanitary environment.

Bond Street in Chelmsford has a new car park central to Chelmsford Town Centre and incorporates the latest parking technology for a “fast and convenient customer experience”. This includes Park Assist to easily identify free spaces.

The car park is well lit and has CCTV security and parking rates are reduced in the evening after 6pm to allow customers to enjoy the dining and cinema experiences the town has to offer.

To park at this Chelmsford John Lewis car park for three hours will cost you £3.
To park at the Colchester Fenwick car park for three hours will cost you £7.
For comparison only, it is cheaper to park at Heathrow than Fenwick Colchester where 3 hours parking at the Hilton will only cost you £6.

Colchester Council seem adamant to ensure car users are penalised for bringing their car into town. They are actively discouraging car use for shopping in the Town Centre by increasing parking fees and reducing parking spaces. This is discouraging people from shopping in the town.

Colchester is a historical market town with unlimited growth potential. It is important that all historical attractions such as Colchester Castle, St Botolph’s Priory, The Roman Wall and even Jumbo are well presented, maintained and marketed to a global audience.

We must actively encourage the promotion of the wide range of goods on offer from our local town centre retailers and the council should be offering help and guidance to those retailers on a regular basis so they may understand the benefits of omni-channel retailing, where the shopping experience begins online and ends in the store.

Colchester has a good visitor information website at visitcolchester.com offering information to visitors on where to stay, what to visit and where to shop and eat. Unsurprisingly the list of the “Top Places to Shop” in Colchester includes Fenwick. It also lists Clacton Factory Outlet and Perrywood Garden Centre, in Tiptree as places to visit and shop.

Obviously Colchester Council have no objections in marketing retail destinations outside of the Town Centre. They actively encourage it even if you have no choice but to use a car to get there. So I’m confused?
I don’t understand for the life of me why Colchester Council have objected to the investment of a multi-million pound development in their own borough?

Tollgate Village is:-
An investment that brings with it 1000 new jobs.
An investment that will draw visitors in from afar.
An investment that will keep residents spending within the borough.
An investment that will help our children obtain their first job.
An investment for the people of Colchester, by a local Colchester company.

Those in charge at Colchester Council are quick to make the call that building Tollgate Village will destroy the Town Centre. A quick look around with open eyes will persuade the majority, this has been happening since the Odeon moved to Head Street and a highly visible historical building was left on Crouch Street to become derelict.

A quick search on Trip Advisor lists the top attractions when visiting Colchester. Shopping is not listed, well not on page one anyway, however the category “bars and clubs” does make it into the top 10. What exactly is Colchester Town Centre’s true destination?

Colchester Council should look at the investment of Tollgate Village as an opportunity, to use the expected high visitor numbers as a captive marketable audience.

How much would it cost to run a tour bus from Tollgate to the historical market town centre or to offer a Click and Collect service for the retailers in the town? John Lewis do this in Cambridge and is a brilliant success. Sainsbury’s also do this in their own store car parks.

The first stopping point for visitors traveling in from London is Stanway. What do they see? A waste land as Colchester’s “front page”. This doesn’t seem to be a fair representation of what Colchester is about, its heritage or what our town really has to offer. I agree – it says “We Are Closed” for business.

The plans for Tollgate Village look amazing. Let’s be honest. Pedestrian zones, free – safe parking, a state of the art cinema, restaurants and some local shopping. Who using a commercial mind would say “NO” to this fantastic opportunity?

If Colchester Council invest in our town centre wisely, perhaps a pedestrian zone outside Fenwick, short stay parking on the High Street, a new highly visible Tourist Information Centre, modern toilet facilities or a fit-for-purpose bus terminal; these changes will drive growth by encouraging the type of shoppers (such as myself) back into Colchester instead of pushing us away to spend our money in Chelmsford or beyond.

Tollgate Village won’t “kill off” the Town Centre. Lack of investment, maintenance and direction is already doing that.

Tollgate Village will complement the town and invest in the borough’s economy. This investment will help the town centre to thrive and re-establish Colchester as the historical town every person in the UK should visit.

~End~