Colchester Council, and the 5 things they have got right and the 5 things they have got wrong.
We are about to start the election season, we had a year off due to Covid in 2020 but we are back with a bang. This year we have 17 Ward elections, 1 by-election and of course Essex County Colchester elections. All enough to give you a headache but more on the runners and riders in a later instalment.
This blog is focusing on the Colchester Council Elections and an overview of what the ‘Rainbow Alliance’ have done well and maybe not so well.
Elephant on the Roundabout: ❌ Not so well
This is quite the story, and the origin of why there was a public outrage had nothing to do with the scheme itself which was nice enough. However, when you deep dived into it and peeled away at the layers it showed everything what is wrong with local government.
It started with a declaration by the then Labour Group Leader who declared that the Council was at breaking point. Then the very next day it emerged that £100k has been set aside for a golden elephant on a roundabout near North Station. Fashionable East End designers with no local contractors or artists seemingly put forward for a commission, it was clear support was rock bottom.
You cannot claim underfunding and people are dying when you are planning an expensive giant golden elephant sculpture.
Months of bluster finally ended when the scheme quietly went away, never to be spoke of again. What elephant?
Verdict: Epic Fail.
The Arts: ✅ Went well
It must be said that Colchester does support the arts. Funding is in place for the Mercury Theatre and Colchester Arts Centre. Although it does feel there is a layer of exclusivity for tickets for the privileged set, this is a simmering complaint that could soon boil over. The hoi-polloi do break through occasionally, which is nice.
However, the new Mercury Theatre does look stunning and credit must also go for the pop up tent at Abbey Fields which was a fantastic stop-gap.
Verdict: Long may it continue. Art for ALL.
Middlewick ❌ Not so well
To put things into perspective this is clearly not a deal breaker for the majority of Colchester, as it is a hyper-local issue. Most of Stanway, Highwoods and Mile End have been built over with non of the collective outrage that Middlewick has garnered. It is obvious they are labouring with sympathy.
However, it is always important to protect green spaces. The crux of the matter is that due to vast home building over the past few years the growth number has become the new build number.
Middlewick has been included into the local plan. It could be said that building on the Wick was inevitable so they want to control how it is done.
The three local Councillors and the County Councillor all are against the Wick being built on, but are part of the Rainbow Alliance.
We are in a strange situation where some members of the council (parties in power) want the government to stop the council from being able to give planning permission for any houses to be built on the Wick. Clear?
This story has plenty of twists and turns, but we may not know the truth for a long while.
Verdict: Angry local residents could switch parties over this.
Concerts in the Park: ✅ Went very well
This has been a success, usually lower castle park has been blocked off in the past just for niche events or for 19 people to watch Tennis on a big screen. The King Cole Kittens also do a fantastic job with the fireworks, so the park as a venue has had the concept proved.
It was good to see the park being used for pop concerts and give everyone an affordable event in their home town. The acts have been varied and each date successful. Over the years you had to go to either Ipswich or Chelmsford for the same quality act.
Verdict: More, More, More
Garden Villages: ❌ Not so well
If you put forward a scheme that is easily rejected by an inspector then it was not valid in the first instance.
I for one (lonely voice) thought it was a good idea to create communities from scratch. However, the formidable campaigners certainly worked hard on this. The one in Elmsted Market has the potential to go though which leaves a bit of a political challenge for the incumbents. Although my gut feeling is that this is a secondary local issue and they will all be returned.
The local plan has either been a bit of a shambles or we have a lot of nimbys in Colchester.
Verdict: Back to the drawing board.
Northern Gateway: ✅ Very Well
Although this is far from completion, the creation of this community sports village of sorts is a very welcome addition to our town. It will be immensely popular and well used by the local population.
I have heard that retail opportunities may be limited, but time will tell.
After Covid a focus on outdoor community fitness solutions should be a priority, hopefully someone on the council has the gumption to drive that forward.
Verdict: Sporting Excellence
Waste: ❌ Not well at all. Awful in fact.
This is the town councils achilles heel. It has been an unmitigated disaster for years. They have purchased many shiny brooms and toys but has utterly failed leadership wise.
Collection problems are not just unique to Colchester. However, developments approved by planning that result in regular failures due to access are.
Town cleanliness, which falls under the waste umbrella required a public outcry for any action to be taken. £100k (always that figure) was spent to bring the town back up to standard.
The fact that the public had to cajole them to act did show that remedial action was not taken by any initiative, thus a failure of leadership.
Bins regularly overflow and even councillors have to go out and litter-pick. A public enquiry beckons.
Verdict: A filthy episode
Centurion: ✅ Went well
The launch of a physical paper and the Better Colchester slogan was a much needed boost in communication. It may have come from the dirty town debacle, but was well received.
It was suggested that it was used as a promotional tool for Councillors, but that is for the monitoring officer to decide.
The ‘Better Colchester’ campaign was effective with a clear consistent message. This was underpinned by the delivery of the Centurion newsletter.
Verdict: Nice to know what is happening
Colne River: ❌ Went extremely badly
A phrase often used in my company is ‘Talk is cheap’ the River running though our town has been an ecological disaster for the past two years.
The algae growth was out of control and turned the river neon green with a thick matting. Not only was it unsightly but also prevented local wildlife from using the river.
There was no plan in place to resolve and to prevent from reoccurring. Then it happened again last summer.
For a council wanting to be seen championing environmental causes they dropped the ball on this one.
Verdict: Less talking and more doing.
Tree Planting: ✅ Went very well
The planting of Tommy’s Wood was very welcome and poignant for the towns legacy.
Biodiversity projects across the town have been met with cross party and resident support. It is important for insects and the bees to continue at the same pace.
Colchester is also one of the few natural habitats of the Stag Beetle, which makes us unique . The town is passionate about green spaces which reflects the anger towards the Garden Villages and Middlewick.
Verdict: Can always do more but never less. Keep it up.
*Special Mention* Painters Yard ✅❌❓
This hasn’t been included as it is not fully resolved, but a couple of epic duster clucks have been associated with this.
I get the scheme, it could do with some refinement and be more sympathetic towards the heritage of the Roman Wall, better disability access as well, but the plans seems sound enough. It will of course lift the area as lets face it, Queen Street can be a dodgy bit of the town.
When you have a ‘Rainbow Alliance’ it does create some differences in opinions. One thing you don’t do is upset the arts crowd, especially as someone has promised the area to be a ‘Cultural Quarter’.
I do find it bizarre how public realm can be promised to a special interest group without any consultation or any actual authority to do so.
Although the vast majority of the town does not care, the vocal minority do, and they are loud, they are waving flags, they are reading poetry and they are occupying.
There was a rather amusing story of one of the Councillors referring to the protest leaders as loony lefties. Apologies did of course happen when offence was taken.
This is not the main issue but the length of lease for 250 years at a million pounds does seem very cheap, £4000 a year cheap. All signed by a mysterious councillor in a contract with the developer Alumno. The plot thickens even more when it is discovered that covenant is actually owned by Essex County Council who will not alter or transfer. We have a mess that will drag on for years, with legal fees no doubt drawn from council tax reserves.
I do predict that Essex County Council will eventually relent, an altered scheme will be built and the protesters told to go away.
Verdict: Pass me the popcorn.
There you have it, the list is not exhaustive but the top 5 best and worst things the current council has achieved since the last election.