The moment you catch sight of Colchester’s Grade II* listed water tower from the train window, you know you’re well and truly home.
The only problem is that it’s falling to pieces.
It’s been decaying for a long time now. English Heritage added it to the ‘At Risk’ Register as long ago as 2004.
It’s still on it. In the register for 2012, EH described its condition as “Poor”.
I’d go one further. I’d describe it as “Needlessly Poor”.
Why? Well, back in 2011, there was — as you can see from the English Heritage blurb — “a radical scheme to repair and alter the tower”.
It was a great plan, which would have seen Jumbo transformed into a penthouse, flats, offices and restaurant.
Those plans were turned down by 7 councillors to 5. The five in favour were Conservatives. The 7 against were Lib Dem, Labour and Independent.
So Jumbo was left to rot for another couple of years until its owner put in another application to transform it. To this.
As you can see, these are much better proposals than before. There’s public access, a museum and viewing platform – plus the ‘Restaurant in the Sky’ that could be such a brilliant visitor attraction. Especially when the new glass in the legs is illuminated at night.
Colchester people love the idea. Certainly, that’s what they told the local paper in an online poll, which found 80% of voters backed the plans.
So we have new proposals, lots of public backing – even support from prominent members of the local Labour Party.
On the other hand, we have groups like the Balkerne Tower Trust who want to keep Jumbo as it is – but who have no viable, funded, sustainable business plan for its future.
The choice is a simple one. Redevelop Jumbo, but keep its spirit – and turn it into part of our much needed economic renaissance. Or let it stand. And crumble. And disappear for ever.
But where do our councillors stand?
My friend Darius G. Laws has been busily tweeting councillors to get their take on the development.
Almost every Liberal Democrat has refused to set out their vision for one of our most important monuments. Castle Ward Councillor Lib Dem Nick Barlow is a rare exception. He’s not enthusiastic about the plans as they currently stand.
— Nick Barlow (@CllrNickBarlow) July 24, 2013
But credit where it’s due, he does ‘support bringing Jumbo back into use as a public building’, which is a pleasant enough aim – if not a practical vision of how it might be done.
What’s more typical is the kind of evasion offered by Mile End councillor Martin Goss.
— Martin Goss (@ColchesterBoy1) July 30, 2013
Darius has now written to every Borough Councillor of all parties to find out where they stand on the issue (members of the Planning Committee excepted). He’s going to report on their responses.
But this is my prediction. The Liberal Democrats on the Planning Committee will turn down the Jumbo proposals en bloc this August – and instead of having an economic and social jewel rising out of the rubble of our water tower, the fabric will rot until it has to be knocked down.
Why do I think this? That’s simple.
Our Lib Dem MP Bob Russell, who is on record as opposing the current plans, has never got over the fact that Jumbo’s owner has supported the Conservative party in the past.
And he’ll use whatever influence he has to put petty politics before the people of Colchester.