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Essex: Controversial proposals to build £25m Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park are rejected

PUBLISHED: 10:57 18 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:57 18 April 2014

The redundant glass houses used for growing tomatoes was denied planning permission to transform the site into a visitor centre and a country park.

The redundant glass houses used for growing tomatoes was denied planning permission to transform the site into a visitor centre and a country park.

Archant

Campaigners celebrated last night after controversial proposals to build a £25million visitor centre on the Essex-Suffolk border were rejected at appeal.

The redundant glass houses used for growing tomatoes was denied planning permission to transform the site into a visitor centre and a country park.The redundant glass houses used for growing tomatoes was denied planning permission to transform the site into a visitor centre and a country park.

The saga of the proposed Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park is now over after a 13-year battle to get permission for the 100-acre attraction.

Bunting & Sons, the company behind the centre, said it would have created up to 200 jobs and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Included within the proposals were an art gallery, gardens, a Suffolk Punch breeding centre and animal displays.

But those who opposed it, including MP for the area Bernard Jenkin and the Stour Valley Action Group, claimed the centre would have a negative impact on the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Stephen Bunting, senior partner of Bunting & Sons, said: “We agree with the inspector’s report that the proposed visitor centre at Horkesley Park would have delivered a raft of benefits, but needless to say we do not agree with the inspector’s comment that on balance this would be outweighed by other considerations.

The proprosed plans Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park which were turned downThe proprosed plans Stour Valley Visitor Centre at Horkesley Park which were turned down

“We are extremely sorry that we will not see the proposals, which have been subject to the appeal, come to fruition and feel the people of Colchester and further afield have sadly missed out on what would have been a wonderful attraction.”

Revised plans were rejected in February 2013 by Colchester Borough Council despite planning chiefs recommending approval. The proposal had been scaled down from a previous application with none of the new buildings within the area of outstanding natural beauty but around three-quarters of the site would have still been inside it.

The decision was appealed but yesterday it was announced that the inspector had thrown out the plans.

Mr Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, said: “I am hugely relieved, it’s a vindication of the campaign to protect Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley. I am sorry that so much effort has gone into a project which could not happen but it’s very, very good news for the future of Dedham Vale.

“Far more jobs have been created in the area in the last six months by the economy not by this project. There has to be a balance between economic development and the protection of the environment. The inspector felt the environment should come first in this case.”

Will Pavry, chairman of the Stour Valley Action Group, said he was “delighted” with the decision. “It would seem to be the entirely right decision, there’s been strong opposition to it over the last 13 years,” he said.

“This should be the final nail in the coffin for Horkesley Park. We have always though that the claimed benefits were vastly over stated and would be far less than what was projected. The impact on the local area in terms of additional traffic and the impact of all the additional people would be very harmful to the area of sustainable natural beauty.”

But Sir Bob Russell, MP for Colchester, a supporter of the plans, said it was a huge lost opportunity and pointed out that the centre had been backed by the Essex Chambers of Commerce. “This is bitterly disappointing news,” he said.

“It represents a huge loss of vital investment in the borough of Colchester which would have boosted tourism and the local economy and created scores of jobs.”

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