Unpopular Queen St student flats and hotel planned by Alumno will not proceed

The Conservative Group welcomed the decision of Essex County Council not to provide its land in Queen Street for the proposed plan to build  336 student bedsits and a budget hotel. The developer Alumno had proposed a controversial scheme to build student flats, shops, a budget hotel, with new public space on land off Queen Street in the heart of Colchester’s Cultural Quarter.

Despite significant opposition for the local community, Colchester Borough (now City) Council had attempted to negotiate a 250 year lease with Alumno, giving the Council a one-off payment of £980,881 when planning approval was granted.

But Essex County Council, the original owner of the land, had the right to buy-back the land if the City Council did not use it for community purposes. As the City Council intended to facilitate the development of student accommodation and a hotel, the County Council decided to exercise its pre-emption rights to re-purchase the site. Alumno subsequently challenged the County Council's decision to regain the site in a judicial review in the High Court. The Alumno challenge was thrown out in December 2022.

The High Court held that Essex County Council has a pre-emption right to acquire certain land from Colchester City Council, that Essex County Council had not contracted to waive those rights, so Colchester Borough Council was not in a position to enter into a contract with Alumno in regard to land for which it did not have title or control.

Sir Duncan Ouseley, sitting as Judge in the Kings Bench of High Court of Justice ruled that: "Alumno’s claim was not reasonably arguable, and their statement of facts and grounds was deficient. The claim was made that a letter dated 25 January 2019 from Essex CC to Colchester BC contained a representation sufficient to give rise to a substantive legitimate expectation that there would be no exercise of the ECC right of pre-emption, in return for £200,000. The letter is quite incapable of having that effect. It was made in the context of property purchase negotiations. It was full of relevant qualifications. What Alumno experienced, is the lot of anyone dealing with land and taking chances before the contract has been formalised.

This is not really a planning case at all, and not a significant one either. This is in essence a private law dispute about contractual rights, and not amenable to judicial review. "

Essex County Council is now transferring the land to its ownership. Essex County Council Leader Kevin Bentley said: “We temporarily paused the legal work as the developer decided to challenge our decision to re-purchase the land in the High Court. Its claim was rejected by the High Court in December 2022 and we are now once again working with the City Council to transfer the land to Essex County Council.”

Darius Laws, Conservative Group Leader on the City Council added: "When I represented Castle Ward I know just how passionate residents were about seeing the site developed into something exciting and attractive. The ground floor of the previous scheme was an afterthought and not good enough for such an important location in historic Colchester. I am pleased The City Council and Essex County Council are now cooperating together on a new Master Plan for the wider area which will deliver a scheme that is acceptable to all the stakeholders and particularly to the residents of the city centre."


Note 1:  the term "community purposes" as used above is defined as "an omnibus station and car park or for such other of the Corporation's (CCC) statutory functions as may be approved by the Council (ECC)". The full text and the details of the pre-emption clause can be found in Land Registry Title EX809745, Land on the east side of Queen Street, Colchester. schedule of restrictive covenants clauses 2 & 3.