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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Progress in Balkan politics

On our asking, the Balkerne Tower Trust (BTT) has provided BWTAS a update on the status of Jumbo; Colchester's iconic water tower.

In August 2012 BTT was contacted by Simon Plater, the current owner's agent and architect, inviting them to meet with him and Robert Pomery, the owners planning consultant regarding a possible new planning application and to "explore common ground".

BTT were shown two drawings showing two floors of offices at the base, more offices in the tank and a floor under the tank, and ‘museum’ space allocated to a floor under that and also in the roof space. The tank walls were to be replaced by glass on the north and south sides, and a new dog-leg staircase would be inserted between the legs. The BTT was invited to be a "working partner" in the scheme to run the museum space.

The BTT responded by asking the owner George Braithwaite to consider selling Jumbo to the BTT. In September 2012 a reply was received offering Jumbo for sale for £333,000 plus various costs. The BTT then approached Colchester & Ipswich Museums to seek their opinion of both the potential and the problems of utilising the proposed space as a museum. After meeting in October 2012, the BTT decided to refuse cooperation with the latest scheme on the grounds of excessive alteration to the structure of the building and it made a counter offer that Jumbo should be sold at a more realistic price.

Meawhile the BTT continued fundraising and consultation to produce an interpretative information panel about Jumbo to be sited at its base. In August 2012 the Colchester and N E Essex Building Preservation Trust pledged up to £600 towards this along with £500 from a BTT Trustee and £100 from the Civic Society. 

The BTT also had a series of meetings with Colchester Borough Council officers about the continued dilapidation and appearence of Jumbo and its surroundings and to effect the removal of the unsightly hoarding around its base which had been permitted temporarily for works subsequently never carried out. Permission for them had expired in 2007. With the support from Cllr Jo Hayes (Heritage Champion) and Cllr Lynn Barton (Cabinet Portfolio holder for Regeneration), a letter to the owner requiring the removal of the hoarding was promised. 

In early December Colchester Borough Council informed BTT that removal of the hoarding around Jumbo could not be legally enforced and it proposed the decoration of the hoarding instead. Just before Christmas, Jumbo's owner repainted the hoarding.

The BTT submitted a Freedom of Information request for all communication to and from CBC about the hoarding. The resulting documents and letters were shared with local councillors including Cllr Jo Hayes. Her research concluded that CBC was mistaken and the removal of the hoarding could be enforced. After representations to them by BTT, several councillors then strongly communicated their wish for the removal of the hoarding to be enforced. Beverly Jones (Head of Environmental Services) then engaged a barrister for CBC with specialist planning expertise to settle the issue of enforcement.

In early February 2013 the barrister reported that removal could be enforced and by mid-March this had been carried out. For the first time since 2004, passers-by could appreciate a complete view of Jumbo. However the owner did not prevent vehicles subsequently parking untidily on the site.

Planning permission for the interpretative panel was granted and permission to erect the panel on CBC owned land to the south of Jumbo. Cllr Bill Frame also allocated £500 of his grant for local projects. The final design was agreed with the Friends of the Colchester Roman Wall and the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service and installed. The unveiling ceremony with Sir Bob Russell MP doing the honours took place on April 6, 2013 and was attended by about fifty people including local councillors and others involved in local heritage.

On May 22, 2013 new planning applications were registered with CBC to convert Jumbo to flats and restaurant and office space on new floors between the legs but retaining the tank intact in which a ‘museum’ was proposed. The new scheme received a great deal of sympathetic local press coverage. In June BTT held a meeting to consider their response and it was decided that on the grounds that the proposals were for filling-in the legs, the removal of the original pipes and valves and the cutting of holes in the tank to provide views, that it be opposed. A detailed response was then submitted. BTT also objected that it had not been formally consulted as it should have been.

Letters were subsequently received from the owner's planning consultant, suggesting that BTT take on the museum space in advance of the planning committee hearing, so implying support for the applications. Replies were sent making clear the opposition to the applications and proposed that the owner donate Jumbo, which has no commercial value, to BTT.

Enquiries have subsequently been recieved by BTT from bodies with heritage responsibility asking for financial information, its capacity to fundraise and whether BTT has a business plan for Jumbo to which appropriate responses have been supplied.

Letters expressing opinions for and against the applications have since appeared in the local press. The date of the planning committee hearing is not yet known.

1 comment:

Nat Bocking said...

BWTAS does not collectively comment on the relative merits of redevelopment of water-related structures nor automatically insist on preservation intact. We would likely find as many members support as well as oppose redevelopment of water related structures. But it is quite irrefutable that Jumbo is the most significant water tower of the Victorian era, which is perhaps the golden age of civil engineering and public health, and it remains mostly intact. Were there a wish for preservation of an example of such heritage (which BWTAS members constantly express the wish for); to our collective knowledge there is no better candidate than Jumbo. And my research of visiting many such sites finds that an intact iconic tower offering access to views over a concentration of historic sites or buildings or landscape would probably be a magnet to visitors.

Nat Bocking - Gen. Sec. BWTAS