Colchester Save Our Bus Station Campaign

Martin Philpotts

 

Since November of 2004 Colchester Solidarity Group have been involved in the campaign to defend Colchester Bus Station from closure. As part of the St Botolph’s regeneration plan, the Queen Street site upon which Colchester Bus Station is situated is to be sold off by the council for commercial development. After a gap of at least four years in which we will have no bus station, we are to get a smaller, underground bus station on Osborne Street. Save Our Bus Station (SOBS), a group with whom CSG are affiliated, have worked tirelessly in opposition to the council’s plans, petitioning, lobbying council meetings and generally raising public awareness and putting pressure on the council.

 

The public response to this has been overwhelming. At the time of writing, the SOBS petition has over 15,000 signatures. This is significant given the size of Colchester. Stalls have always been greeted with encouragement and there have been good turnouts to meetings and events organised by SOBS. All of this comes as little surprise given that a poll conducted by the Essex County Standard found that 94% were against moving the bus station. A second poll in the East Anglian Daily Times found 64% opposed the council’s plans. This was despite the fact that data was collected in a local art gallery run by Firstsite, a group involved in the development process. The poll also implied (dishonestly) that the removal of the bus station was necessary for the proposed building of the Visual Arts Facility.

 

A real turning point in the campaign was the public meeting organised by SOBS in February 2005. Invited were Councillors Robert Davidson and Richard Gower to speak in defence of the project. Also speaking were Peter Kay of bus users group C-Bus, disabled bus user Anne Guiver, Roman Krzykawski of Amicus, Martin Philpotts of Colchester Solidarity Group as well as various ordinary bus users. One by one the council’s arguments were destroyed. The faces of the council representatives became increasingly red. When the meeting was opened up to contributions from the floor, over half the audience spoke, all of them against the council. The meeting was a great morale boost and really brought home to the council the strength of public feeling against them.

 

A few days after the public meeting members of SOBS and other bus station users attended a special council meeting to discuss the St Botolph’s regeneration plan. The story was similar to the SOBS meeting – resident after angry resident spoke of how the council was failing them, and how the regeneration plans would be a disaster for Colchester and surrounding towns. The council then voted on a Labour amendment approving the plans on the condition that the bus station remain on Queen Street. The amendment was defeated by thirty-nine votes to nine, with seven abstentions. The crowd responded by chanting “shame… shame… shame”. However, the council did vote in favour of a Liberal Democrat amendment for a consultation period of eight weeks.

 

The redevelopment plans, which finally emerged after many delays, can be viewed here

 

At every turn the council has tried to sneak developments past the public, distort the truth and abuse democracy. For example, their attempts to consult the public, which have only happened at all due to the pressure piled upon them by the campaign and weight of public opinion, have been little more than a farce. A recent consultation group claiming to represent disabled residents, which came out in favour of the council’s plans turned out to be chaired by none other than Firstsite member Hilary Davis. The arrogance displayed by the council in ignoring public opinion has also been incredible. In the East Anglian Daily Times council chair John Jowers stated “campaigners trying to save the bus station need to realise they have lost and give up the fight”. Thanks Mr. Jowers, we’ll bear that in mind!

 

The effect of the Save Our Bus Station campaign has been clear. The council has already made some significant climb downs and delays – such as the consultation period and, more recently, the plan to continue using the Queen Street site for a temporary bus station in the years before the new one comes along. Of course these gains are sadly tainted by more deviance from the council and we are a long way from any real victory, but simply the fact that SOBS has raised awareness and brought the public together over an issue the council hoped it could sneak past us is an achievement to be proud of.