Our Key Objections to the 2005 Submission

Rural access
All Saints Church
John Constable
Suffolk Punch
Small businesses

Another view towards the site from Little Horkesley. All this land is included in the AONB.

Damage to the Dedham Vale

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.

Who needs tourism like this?

The Applicants claim that Horkesley Park “will enhance the status of Colchester as a tourism destination… (and)… will deliver a new and much needed tourism and cultural focus within the Stour Valley, thereby adding greatly to the status of this part of East Anglia…”. We believe that no such focus is needed.

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.

The free countryside that most of us want (left) and the controlled and branded experience that Buntings appear to want to give us (right). On land belonging to the Anchor Inn Heritage Farm, unsympathetic posting grants permissive access and at the same time gives promotional detail on the Buntings’ enterprise. Click here to read this sign (pdf 212KB)

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.

All Saints’ Church: stranded in the centre of the commercial development?

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)

Nothing new here. Roger Clarke has worked Suffolk Punches in this area for the past forty years.

Really retail?

The Proposal claims that it is a Heritage Centre and Countryside Park. An analysis of the facts in the Proposal suggests that the prime reason is to exploit the site of the greenhouses and recently acquired land for commercial gain through the 1,125 seat restaurant and café facilities and the over 100,000 square feet of garden centre together with additional specialist retail.

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.

Rural gridlock

We believe that the huge increase in traffic resulting from 760,000 visitors a year will be the element of this development that will, above everything else, have the greatest impact on the quality of life in this area.

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 extra traffic raises major safety issues for other users. The safety issues for children, other pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists, are of extreme concern.

The Colchester Borough Plan also gives special protection to Protected Lanes which are ancient lanes and says that there should be no increase in traffic on such lanes as a result of new development. One of these, Fishponds Hill, is adjacent to the site and will be a feeder route to the site and will inevitably suffer a large amount of additional traffic.

Fishponds Hill will inevitably be used as a main route to the site.

Noise and light pollution

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.

The Stour Valley taken from Gravel Hill, Nayland. Noise and light pollution will affect the tranquil village of Nayland,
which is overshadowed by the site on right horizon.

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.

Not the jobs people need

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.

Damage to local businesses

A development on this scale will severely damage many already-existing small businesses particularly those selling food, plants, and garden equipment. Those small businesses operate on a scale that is currently viable. The Heritage Centre will be like a giant supermarket arriving on their doorstep and potentially destroy them and reduce the choice currently available to local residents. Why should one firm get rich at the expense of existing local family businesses?

A threat for the future

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?