Our Key Objections to the 2005 Submission
We consider that the development will do irreparable harm to the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Most of the area of the proposed park, though not the greenhouse site itself, lies within the AONB, and traffic and activities stemming from it will spread throughout this protected landscape.
The Colchester Borough Plan makes it quite clear that: “Development in or likely to have an adverse impact on the Dedham Vale AONB will be subject to special scrutiny. Where such development could have an adverse impact, either directly or indirectly, on the area, it will be acceptable only where an overriding national need for the development in that particular location can be demonstrated and there is a lack of alternative sites.”
In a letter of objection to Colchester Borough Council (CBC) the Dedham Vale Joint Advisory Committee stated that “the proposal will have several negative impacts on the AONB.” Dedham Vale Joint Advisory Committee's letter (pdf 26Kb)
In a further letter of objection the view of The National Trust was stated as follows: “The National Trust considers that this proposal should be rejected as being completely out of scale, and of an inappropriate nature and location. It would also have the potential to irreparably damage the existing tourist locations within the Dedham Vale which the National Trust and partners have striven so long and hard to cherish.” National Trust's letter (pdf 49Kb)
In our view, Buntings
cannot demonstrate overriding national (nor local nor regional) need.
needs tourism like this?
There is no demonstrable need for the cultural and tourism elements of the Application. Nor is there any demonstrable need for the commercial elements of the development with the Colchester area being already very well served with excellent garden centres and a plethora of country pubs and restaurants.
If people are genuinely interested in the countryside of the Stour Valley, rural access to the real thing is freely available through the hundreds of miles of footpaths and bridleways that already exist. The public footpaths that already criss-cross the site will have to be fenced in to prevent ordinary ramblers from gaining entry.
Rather than adding to the tourist potential of the area, the development would actively destroy it. It would scar the landscape and detract from the architectural heritage. At the heart of the site lies All Saints’ Church, a Grade One listed medieval building in what is currently an exceptionally beautiful setting. English Heritage wrote (Word doc 47Kb) a forceful objection to the 2005 Application, stating that “the development would severely compromise the setting of this church.” The church is in use with regular services.
The connection with John Constable is a spurious one. The painter has no direct connection with the Horkesley Park area, and no evidence has been given that any actual Constable works would be on show there. No national art gallery has been named or admitted to any involvement with the enterprise despite the proposal’s assertions to the contrary.
A significant collection of paintings by John Constable can be seen at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, and his heritage and landscape have been carefully conserved over many years by the National Trust at Flatford Mill. To use Constable’s name as a draw for a project that will destroy a part of his landscape is unacceptable exploitation.
It is our view that the issue of the endangered Suffolk Punch is also being exploited. This highly commercial tourist attraction threatens to compete for attention with the Suffolk Punch Trust at Hollesley Bay, a registered charity and universally recognised as the finest stud for Suffolk horses in the world. And showing Suffolk Punches in the area is nothing new. For the last forty years, in nearby Stoke-by-Nayland, Roger Clarke has used Suffolk heavy horses instead of machines to genuinely farm his land, and has done more for the continuation of the breed than any other individual. Bunting and Sons are only beginners in this field. Suffolk Punch Horses -The Facts booklet (pdf 767Kb) or text version (pdf 19Kb)
The Colchester Borough Plan is very specific about retail developments outside the town centre and this Application:
Does not meet the ‘sequential tests’ that require new retail sites to be located preferentially in town centres or at edge-of-town sites.
Is not on any of the sites designated for development by the CBC Plan.
In particular the Plan makes it clear that it is unnecessary for large garden centres to have rural locations and they will be treated essentially as bulky goods retailing.
Buntings claim that most access will be via the A134 north from Colchester. In reality it will be impossible to control how people will travel. The three main roads of Boxted, Great Horkesley and West Bergholt are already under severe pressure from traffic making its way to the bottleneck at Station roundabout. All the smaller feeder roads are also likely to experience considerably more traffic than they do now, Many of these are very narrow country lanes and include ‘rat-runs’ to the main A12 and A14 arterial roads which will soon become well known to visitors.
It is likely that visitors to Horkesley Park will also visit other tourist ‘honeypots’ in the area. The routes to Dedham and Flatford Mill are already crowded in the summer and will not be able to carry the additional traffic. Villages such as the charming Suffolk village of Nayland – less than a mile from the site – will become impassable.
Nayland’s medieval street plan is already under severe pressure from traffic.
The Application only
considers traffic noise during normal daylight hours.
It does not deal with traffic noise after 6pm or noise generated from
functions and other events that will be held on the site, particularly
at weekends. This kind of noise at these hours will destroy the peace
and tranquillity of the neighbourhood. Light pollution will also be
highly intrusive in this rural area, visible from the hilltop site
for many miles.
People living close to Bunting and Sons’ enterprises at Westwood Park and at the Anchor Inn in Nayland have already experienced appreciable loss of amenity due to excessive lighting, late night music and fireworks displays.
Buntings argue that their Heritage Centre will create 184 ‘full time equivalent’ jobs on site. Deep in their proposal, they also say that the development will result in the loss of 98 jobs elsewhere. Many of the jobs created will necessarily be of a temporary nature and will not provide the high quality jobs that Colchester will need. The employment pattern is likely to follow the model at several successful gastropubs in the area, which are mainly staffed by young people from overseas.
to local businesses
We question the long-term financial viability of the proposal. No projections are given beyond the first year of operation and we question whether the initial visitor figure of 760,000 is realistic bearing in mind visitor numbers to other regional attractions. (Comparative figures for 2003 published by East of England Tourist Board (EETB) are: Colchester Zoo, 541,628; Sutton Hoo, 135,000; Whipsnade Wild Animal park, 470,934; Duxford Aircraft Museum, 442,772; Thetford Forest Park , 2 million, but over a vast area of 21,000 hectares. EETB’s letter of advice (pdf 93Kb) to CBC considers the stated visitor numbers “somewhat optimistic”; the restaurant figures “very optimistic”; the mix of attractions and long-term viability “questionable”.) The garden centre is said to be the financial anchor for the whole project and if it should fail to make enough to keep the project afloat the simplest way to increase income would to be to increase the retail element and put in more shops.
It is worth noting however that the planning category under which the Application is submitted is Category D2, Assembly and Leisure. If granted, this could potentially give licence for all kinds of leisure activities including cinemas, bingo halls, dance and concert halls and most indoor and outdoor sports.
If the visitor centre is not viable, where might "Buntingland" end?