As the issue of the old Odeon building in Crouch Street has been in the press recently, I thought I’d point out some of the issues that the Gazette reports misses.
The planning application to turn the building into a nightclub was submitted in 2006 and discussed by the Council’s Planning Committee on 10th August 2006. This was before I was a Councillor (indeed, I was walking through Glencoe on that day) but I believe the Committee rejected (pdf file) the application unanimously. That decision was then appealed by the applicant and a public inquiry was held in early 2008 by the Planning Inspectorate. After considering the evidence, the Inspector chose to dismiss the appeal and uphold the Planning Committee’s decision (pdf again). The conclusion to the Inspector’s decision states:
The proposal would adversely affect the quality of people’s life with insufficient mitigation and without overriding need.
The Gazette report fails to consult any local residents and only talks to shopkeepers in Crouch Street. While I understand the shopkeeper’s dismay at the building being in poor condition and remaining unused, local residents (in Crouch Street itself, Church Walk and St Mary’s) are rightly concerned about the prospect of a massive new nightclub on their doorstep – the application is for one of the largest in East Anglia, bigger than anything currently in the town – and all the problems that would create. We’re working to expand and diversify the night-time economy of Colchester, and a massive club like that wouldn’t help to make the town more welcoming to a wider range of people.
The key issue is that the owner of a building has chosen not to do anything with it – which is his choice – and only appears to be interested in opening a nightclub there, not finding other uses for the building. I know there’s a belief that ‘the Council must do something!’ but there’s very little we can do just become someone has chosen not to fully utilise a property they own. We don’t have the financial resources to afford a compulsory purchase order on the building – and my understanding of CPOs is that they’re a risky strategy that can leave you facing very large and unavoidable costs if you succeed – and there aren’t laws that allow us to force someone to make use of a building (and you should be glad of that when you consider how such a power might be abused). We are doing what we can, but the ball is not in our court on this one.