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Horkesley Park Key Issues


The 2009 Planning Application

Colchester Council say 'NO' to Horkesley Park

At the meeting on 26 May 2011, the CBC Planning Committee supported
their officer's recommendation for refusal.

Eleven to one against the application!

The Moot Hall was packed with around 170 SVAG supporters and 50 Bunting family members and employees. The Anchor was closed so that the staff could attend! The Hall was full to capacity and at least a further 50 SVAG supporters were unable to get in and turned away at the door.

see Newsflash for full account

Planner’s recommendation – . To view click here, then choose 'Planning Committee Agenda 26/5/2011'. CBC's Principal Planning Officer recommended REFUSAL for the application.

SVAG sent a a brief and straightforward document to all borough councillors so that they can be informed of our arguments well in advance of the meeting. Click to view document (pdf 1.36Mb)


Developments since April 2010

March 2011

The following additional documents lodged by Bunting and Sons in relation to the Horkesley Park Application:

  • Bunting Memorandum dated 08 February 2011 ref KSB/314 with attachment
  • H/M/Vision Food Experience Vers 2.2 dated 12 January 2011.
  • H/M/Vision Horticultural Experience Vers 2.2 dated 12 January 2011.
  • H/M/Vision for the Lecture Theatre, Exhibition Area etc., at Horkesley Park, Version 3 dated 12 January 2011.

Our comments on these can be seen in our letter to CBC dated 2 March 2011 (pdf 69Kb).

January 2011

Three important documents have recently come into the Public Domain concerning Horkesley Park. These are:

  • Update on comments on Horkesley Park (application 090231) from Strategic Policy and Regeneration (SP&R). Document is undated but appeared on the CBC web site on January 21st 2011.
  • Savell Bird & Axon, Horkesley Park Planning Application Review. Dated November 2010. Appeared on web site on January 21st 2011.
  • Natural England letter to CBC dated 17th January 2011.

Our comments on these can be found on our Newsletter page

July - September 2010

Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners Report commissioned by Colchester Borough Council finally published. SVAG produced details of our analysis of this document (click to view pdf 32Kb). Buntings responded with a 406 page document. The NLP Report and Buntings response can be found on the Colchester Borough Council website (dated 7 & 13 July).

SVAG’s formal response to these was given in a letter to CBC. Our letter sets out our full support for the NLP report and the many reasons why the Bunting document is misleading and should be set to one side. Click to view: Response letter to CBC (pdf 150Kb). Attachments: Spreadsheet of Horkesley Park attractions (pdf 76Kb), Letter from ADAS (pdf 24Kb), Appendix 1 (pdf 11Kb), Appendix 2 (pdf 11Kb).

On 17th April 2009 SVAG submitted its formal response to the Horkesley Park proposal to Colchester Borough Council. Click below to view the documents included.

SVAG's Letter of Objection
(pdf 68Kb)
1: Dalton Warner Davis Letter
(pdf 821Kb)
2: 'Visitor Attraction Consultants' Report
(pdf 218Kb)
3: 'Common Sense' Review of Tourism Feasibility Study
(pdf 585Kb)
4: Personal Letter - Mr FG Storey
(pdf 87Kb)
5: Personal Letter - Dr Ronald Blythe
(pdf 44Kb)


The 2009 Horkesley Park Proposal

Country Life article
Plus ça change.... Figures and a few details may have changed,
but the “new” Horkesley Park of 2009 is little altered from the ersatz
heritage experience lambasted in a Country Life editorial in 2006

We give a brief summary below of the key facts of the proposal, and a general view of our objections. Our objections are formally detailed in the Response above. If you are concerned and wish to read more about the Buntings’ proposal , you have a right to see the Proposal in full at the Colchester Borough Council offices in Angel Court, High St, Colchester. It comprises several thousand pages of information. We have one copy of the full document only. You can also see details on the Colchester Borough Council website on www.colchester.gov.uk/planning and you can request a copy on CD for which you will have to pay.

We believe that this Application must be fought at all costs if we are to preserve the peace and beauty of the Dedham Vale and the communities who live here.

The planning officer at Colchester Borough Council dealing with this proposal is:
Mr Alistair Day, Colchester Borough Council , PO Box 889 , Town Hall , Colchester CO1 1FL . He can be contacted by email at planning.services@colchester.gov.uk
However we must inform you that the deadline for letters of objection from the public is now passed.

Buntingland Petition
Do you know about Buntings’ ‘Save the Suffolk Punch’ petition? We first reported this in a newsflash on 8th March 2009 (click here)

Buntings have since supplemented this spurious petition with a further mailed petition. They claim the signatures amassed (some of which may be duplicated) show public support of 22:1. We have written to CBC in protest to this, indicating our belief that letters received by demonstrate a 3:1 level of Objection.

Totals of individual letters received by CBC:

Against: 1226
  In support: 418

Key Facts

Main stated objective:
“ A celebration of the English Countryside through the themes of Agriculture & Food, Art & Culture, and Countryside & Conservation.”

The Development includes:-

  • Total visitors forecast: 485,000 in opening year.
  • A zoned Heritage Centre with a number of ‘heritage’ features ranging from interactive life and times of John Constable to local dialect studio.
  • 48,188 sq ft covered Garden Centre, Food Experience and ancillary buildings.
  • Café and restaurant facilities with capacity for over 787 covers.
  • The Chantry Gallery and Gardens. Chantry gallery claiming to display works by John Constable and other artists of the region.
  • Country park area and playground.
  • Suffolk Punch Breeding centre.
  • Area is 117 acres along London Road Great Horkesley and running down into the hidden valley to Little Horkesley.
  • Existing footpaths will be fenced in to prevent the access of genuine ramblers to the Countryside Park.
  • Open 364 days per year from 10.00am to 6.00pm. (We are allowed a day of peace on Christmas Day)
  • Scheduled to open in 2011.
  • Entrance to the Heritage Centre including Garden Centre and Grounds will be by ticket – fee up to £10.95 per person.
  • Financial viability of the project depends on income and profit from the garden centre, food experience and restaurants.
  • Said to create 155 full-time equivalent jobs on site when operational. At the same time it will displace 178 jobs in existing businesses but also create about the same number of ‘secondary‘ jobs.

Buntings claim that the Horkesley Park will be a ‘Celebration of the English Countryside through the themes of Agriculture & Food, Art & Culture, and Countryside and Conservation’. We believe that Horkesley Park is in reality a retail scheme dressed up as a Heritage and Conservation Centre. Most of the revenues will come from garden centre and food sales as well as the extensive restaurant facilities and entry fees. We question whether the other ‘attractions’ described in the Proposal are sufficient in themselves to create a major tourist attraction.

Colchester Borough Council has declared it a Departure Application. This means that it is outside the guidelines of the current Borough Plans. If CBC were to find in favour, the decision would require endorsement (or otherwise) by the Regional Office of Government.

Our Key Objections to the 2009 Proposal

Rural access





Destruction to Dedham Vale

The site from across Horkesley valley. On the horizon, from left to right: the gardens of The Chantry, the tower of All Saints’ Church, and the existing greenhouses behind a screen of poplars. Most of the land running down the hill will be fenced off as Country Park, with car park to right edge.

We are privileged to have the beautiful Dedham Vale on our doorstep, England’s smallest and most fragile Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is our responsibility to protect the integrity of this AONB for future generations. Most of the proposed ‘heritage park’ lies within the protected area, only the main buildings falling outside of it. If the Application were to proceed, it would change the Dedham Vale for ever. This must not be allowed to happen.
See letter of objection from The Joint Advisory Committee to the Dedham Vale AONB & Stour Valley Project on the Dedham Vale & Stour Valley Project website or the Colchester Borough Council website.
See letter of objection from The Dedham Vale Society (letter to CBC pdf 84Kb)

An AONB is subject to the most rigorous planning at national, regional and local levels. Most recently this was reinforced by the Core Development Strategy adopted by Colchester Borough Council in December 2008.

This huge development would destroy the unspoilt character of the AONB. The traffic that it generates would have a major impact on all the surrounding area. The effect on both the landscape and on the quality of life of all who live here will be severe and wholly negative. It will destroy the peace and quiet of the countryside it is supposed to be celebrating, particularly at weekends.

LDA Associates, who prepared the Bunting’s Proposal, also prepared an earlier published document for the AONB in which they say ‘....it is the absence of public awareness and pressure that has preserved much of the charm of the Vale, contributing to its timeless, quiet and undiscovered character’. The new Proposal clearly flies in the face of this. Such contradictory statements made by the same professional consultants when working for different clients are impossible to reconcile.

Heritage Park in AONB
Click to view full image (pdf 1.8Mb)
As shown the majority of the proposed heritage park site lies within the AONB (outlined in purple). The original Horkesley Park is north of the site.

We note from one of the letters received by CBC that it is a historical accident that the hilltop site was excluded from the AONB and that the glasshouses were allowed to be built there. A letter to CBC (pdf 278Kb) from a retired farmer states his memory that at the time this was an extraordinary planning consent made for a very specific agricultural purpose. No other use should be acceptable for the site.

A fragile ecology

While the Application as described generally conforms to countryside policy, it is disingenuous to suggest that the sheer numbers of visitors and traffic will not have an adverse impact on the local ecology. Areas of the river valley in close proximity to the site are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and County Wildlife Sites and are a haven for rare plants and wildlife including otters, dormice and kingfishers. A letter to CBC (pdf 435Kb) from the wife of a retired local farmer with fifty years’ experience of life in the valley eloquently describes our concerns.

The area defined as Horkesley Park in the Application is entirely on the hilltop, despite the fact that elements of the 'heritage' displays concern river transport and the building of Stour lighters. Buntings have acquired a strip of land connecting the hilltop to the meadows they own alongside the river Stour, and grassed this land over into a 'green lane'. They own further river frontage just a few hundred yards away at the Anchor Inn in Nayland. It is conceivable that a desire may arise in the future to connect these tracts of land, creating a 'Buntingland' that reaches continuously from Great Horkesley to Nayland and along the river. A mass visitor presence here could be highly detrimental to the river wildlife.

Buntingland Map
'Buntingland' (pdf 206Kb)

Commercialisation, not tourism

Buntings claim that there is a need for a major tourist attraction to relieve the pressure on tourist ‘honey pots’ in the AONB (Flatford Mill and ,Dedham in particular). We strongly contest this. An artificial ‘countryside experience’ as proposed by Buntings is simply not needed. If people want to visit the countryside and the Stour Valley they can access the real thing freely any day through the hundreds of miles of footpaths and bridleways that already exist. They can visit local pubs, buy local produce from real farm shops, and have tea at small tea rooms run by local people. They don’t need what they already have for free taken away from them, packaged up and served back to them with an entry fee.

The National Trust has written a letter to CBC (pdf 27Kb) making an unreserved objection to the Application. It describes it as an unwarranted major development, inappropriate, unsustainable and out-of-scale, detrimental to the landscape on many counts. Specifically, it believes that rather than relieving pressure on the Trust’s ‘tourist honeypots’ it will increase it, causing ‘huge traffic problems’.

See also a lettter of objection from the writer and historian Dr Ronald Blythe (letter to CBC pdf 249Kb).

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)

Bogus heritage

The real Constable heritage is the landscape itself

The much-vaunted link with John Constable is tenuous. There is no direct historical link between the site and his work and no evidence has yet been given that Horkesley Park will have any works of note by Constable or other well-known regional artists on show. Constable is properly celebrated at very well run and popular Flatford Mill Centre (run by the National Trust) which was his true home.

See letter of objection from Gainsborough's House, Sudbury (see letter to CBC pdf 74Kb)
See letter of objection from John Constable, great-great-great grandson of the artist (see letter to CBC pdf 73Kb)

At the heart of the site lies All Saints’ Church, a Grade One listed medieval church which is in use with regular services. It seems highly inappropriate that the church and its ancient graveyard should become surrounded by a commercial park. The development would severely compromise its exceptionally beautiful setting.

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

Unsustainable traffic

More Photos
Nayland’s medieval street plan is already under severe pressure from traffic. Visitors to the Anchor Inn park any which way they can - a sign of things to come? Click here to see more

Gridlock in Nayland as Satnav directs a low-loader through the narrow medieval streets

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

The Plan anticipates 485,000 visitors in the first year of operation. If this were to be so, we believe that the huge increase in traffic will be the element that will have the greatest adverse impact on the quality of life in this area.

Peak traffic flows are anticipated on summer weekends, which are the time when the peace and tranquillity of the Dedham Vale is most treasured. Villages in the area, particularly Nayland with its medieval street plan, will be subjected to potential summer grid-lock.

Although the Buntings claim that most access will be from the A12 in Colchester via the A134, it will be impossible to control how people will arrive and leave from the site. SATNAVS are commonly used and all the feeder roads are likely to experience considerably more traffic than they do now, whether it be the Higham route from the Ipswich direction, the Eight Ash Green route or the Bakers Lane route from the A12 from the London direction. Won’t the SATNAVS anyway direct them not to the Buntings’ site but to Littlegarth School, the historic Horkesley Park, which is correctly shown as such on current Ordnance Survey maps? What chaos!

Our narrow lanes and village roads are overloaded already. They cannot support the considerable increase in traffic volume. Specifically, Fishponds Hill, directly adjacent to the site, is a Protected Lane, subject to Planning constraint against increase in vehicular traffic. Through the wider area, peak summer traffic will cause severe disruption to the access required by local farmers and to genuine rural activities, and present a real danger to our children, horse riders and cyclists.

Local jobs and small businesses at risk

Buntings argue that their Heritage Centre will directly create 155 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) jobs on site once it is operational. They also claim that there will be other additional jobs created in the local and regional economy but offset by over 170 jobs lost in other businesses by ‘displacement’.

The Heritage Centre jobs will only arise if they get the numbers of visitors forecast (which must be highly questionable). We can however be sure that that a development on this scale will severely damage many already-existing local small businesses – garden centres, tea rooms and farm shops – that will find themselves in competition. These small businesses operate on a scale that is currently viable and is entirely sustainable and a benefit to the valley and the community. The Heritage Centre will be like a giant supermarket arriving on their doorstep and could wipe them out.

Fears about financial viability

Although this is an issue that may not be directly considered in the planning process, we should all be concerned about it. It is stated that the garden centre is intended to be the financial anchor for the whole Horkesley Park project. What if visitor numbers are not as forecast, if garden centre sales and restaurant receipts are not great enough to keep the project afloat? Surely the only way to increase income will be through expansion of these commercial and retail elements: more and more shops.

The visitor numbers which form the basis of the business plan are highly questionable.

Buntings’ consultants have come up with a figure of 485,000 visitors for the 2009 Application and yet in the 2005 Application they gave us a figure of 762,812, all for very much the same offering. There are evidently some major margins for error in both Applications.

Actual visitor numbers recorded at other local attractions indicate that even a figure of 485,000 visitors in the first year of operation is highly optimistic. Colchester Zoo is the only local attraction that approaches this figure. They have a well-known and very attractive family offering, and it has taken them a full twenty years to build their business up to this level.

How attractive really is the Horkesley Park offering for the average modern family? Will it work? And what will happen if it doesn’t?

For a quick comparison, we have obtained these annual visitor figures from already established tourist attractions. (All taken from recently published reports or direct statements.)

Colchester Zoo
Whipsnade Animal Park
Sutton Hoo
Colchester Castle
Flatford Mill
Barleylands Farm Museum


How does what Buntings have on offer compare with these?
And they state admission charges almost as high as those for safari parks: at £10.95 for country park, £6.95 for garden or £14.95 combined. Do their figures really add up?

SVAG’s own senior financial experts and independent consultants have now made a detailed analysis of Buntings’ figures and have concluded that Buntings’ visitor numbers and estimates of revenue are grossly overstated and that Horkesley Park is not a viable project in any way. (see SVAG report above)

Noise pollution

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.

The Application makes no mention of the noise generated by people. The valley to the north of the site is exceptionally quiet at present and individual voices can be clearly heard across it. The country park and playground will generate considerable noise in the summer months for those who live in Little Horkesley.

Light pollution

There is virtually no light pollution from the site at present. The new Centre would inevitably have security lighting for the car parks and the main buildings showing after dark. Any evening events that may be held in the two storey central building will inevitably create light pollution across the valley.

Dangers for the future

The Planning Application falls within Category D2, Assembly and Leisure. Once granted, this would theoretically give licence for all kinds of leisure activities that might be introduced in the future. Further activities within the development would be hard to control . In particular, if the project in its original form were to fail (as our reports suggest it would) the developers would find it necessary either to increase its commercial elements or sell it on.

Where might Buntingland go from here?
Let’s stop it now!













































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