£100m town-centre regeneration plans may go to public inquiry to sort out row over blocked-off cycle paths

Architect Richard Rogers Partnership’s £100m scheme to regenerate the centre of Chelmsford in Essex faces an 18-month delay because of a wrangle over cycle paths.

The plan put forward by RRP and developer Countryside Properties for a residential and artistic quarter on the site of Anglia Polytechnic University’s central campus was expected to start on site in mid-autumn.

But it has run into difficulties because cyclists are concerned that it will reduce cycle lanes. The protesters, who include the Chelmsford Cycling Action Group, are worried that the proposed scheme to build on the six-acre site will block off some much-used routes in the town centre.

There is now a possibility that it could go to public inquiry if the protesters refuse to budge.

After hearing the latest plans, the group wrote to Chelmsford council about its concerns. This prompted the council to refer the matter to central government for a decision.

Ian Crockford, director at Countryside Properties, said the delay could last until the middle of next year because of the time required to process a decision and draw up a report.

Even if we heard now we would still be in to 2006 before it was all sorted out

Ian Crockford, director, Countryside

He said: “Even if we heard now we’d still be waiting for a decision for six months from that point, and then there’s the report process, so we’d be in to 2006.”

Crockford said that Countryside had tried to meet the protesters halfway, and had hired a team from engineer Arup to work on a fresh cycle path strategy, but their proposals had been rebuffed.

The project team also has other issues to deal with: it wants to close a road and has been working on compulsory purchase orders and a land swap.

Under the deal, Countryside has acquired the central campus of Anglia Polytechnic University. The university is to move to premises at another campus in the town.

Countryside aims to build 700 mixed-tenure homes, 8400 m2 of offices, shops, an arts quarter and a central square, which will provide a focus for the site.