Saturday, November 17, 2012

Colchester... slowly decaying

I moved over to Colchester – Britain's oldest town – in around April 1992. I thought it was delightful, a wonderful place compared to Chelmsford, which had all the attraction of a cold, dead fish on a slab. Just to give you an idea of the entertainment value of Chelmsford, when I moved out it didn't have a single open cinema. There had been five when my Dad was growing up, three when I was growing up, and none when I moved. Later a six-screen Odeon opened.

I swapped awful Chelmsford for Colchester, which had character. In the past twenty years, that character has been steadily whittled away. The Saturday market that used to run in the High Street that runs through the centre of town was destroyed when it was moved to an off-the-beaten-track car park. The guy I used to buy videos from gave up and went back to driving a cab because it paid better. The market died. Now we have a few stands selling veg. and one of those sellers of old, back-issue magazines and kid's colouring books, a few clothes sellers lined up along a through-road and threaded through the shopping centre on a Friday and Saturday.

I used to buy my CDs at Andy's Records, an independent store that carried even obscure bands like The Enid. They went out of business when Virgin opened up. Eventually, Virgin also disappeared, leaving us with an HMV in the town centre... and they're not exactly thriving. We used to have a Menzies as well as a W. H. Smiths. No more Menzies. We had two major bookshops where we now only have one.

I'm sure Colchester isn't unique in this. But it has one or two unique aspects. When I moved here, one of the first places I visited was the Odeon. I could watch films again! But they closed the old Art Deco Odeon in 2002 and opened up a nasty six-screener which, by the time you pay booking fees, now charges around £10.50 to get into one of their screens. All smaller and sweatier than even screen two at the previous Odeon. In 2006 the owner applied to convert the empty building into a nightclub. The application was rejected as was the appeal in 2008. After ten years it's an empty building.

And today they closed down the bus station. The bus station was located not far from the end of the High Street, close to Colchester's main attraction, the Castle. Quite a few years ago, it was announced that the bus station was being moved out of the way. Further away from the High Street, from the Castle, from the shopping centre...

We're talking an extra five minutes walk. Not a problem if you're fit and healthy. More of a problem if you're not so fit and healthy but rely on public transport when you're doing your weekly shopping. If you look at the map you can see Priory Walk, where Sainsburys is, is right opposite the bus station. It wasn't the prettiest bus station in the world, but it was bloody convenient. Not as of today.

The bus station was always going to get the chop when they announced the building of a Visual Arts Centre. Which nobody wanted. The bus station was supposed to move to St. Botolphs. But then they announced that the St. Botolphs site was to be redeveloped as a magistrates' court. So the bus station has become – at a cost of £2 million – a row of stops alongside a car park and Bingo Hall. Let's not forget the "secure, covered and well-lit passenger waiting area" which, as of this morning, didn't look secure, covered or well-lit.

See... there it is... over there on the right. The see-through cubicle. Nobody seems to be too sure where the toilets are. The announcement also said there would be, and I quote, "touch-screen information pods". I'm looking forward very much to touching them and seeing what information comes out. I suspect they'll be as useful as the digital displays which tell you when the bus is scheduled to arrive but doesn't actually tell you when it's due. If it's late, the scheduled bus just disappears from the screen!

We will survive. We survived the farcical one-way system which cost (if memory serves) three-quarters of a million to fix. We survived the late opening of the Visual Arts Centre, which sat unfinished for over a year while they argued about its cost, eventually stumping up another £9 million to get it open. Mel's review of the contents of this £25.5 million white elephant: "Meh!"

What especially pissed me off today wasn't the closure of the station, which isn't even as nice as the station used to be when I first moved here. What annoyed me was this notice, which I have to admit I didn't notice at first...

... which told us that the High Street was being closed "for Christmas events" in mid-November. So I had the pleasure of walking a quarter of a mile in the rain to an uncovered stop half-way up Military Road to catch my bus.

The perfect(ly awful) end to a perfect(ly awful) trip into town.


  1. And they call it progress.

  2. That's all very sad. And why no takers for the old Odeon? In other places around the world art deco architecture is much loved and admired. Properly restored to a tidy state, it can look magnificent: e.g. Auckland's Civic Cinema which was used as a location in Sir Peter Jackson's King Kong movie, and a whole range of post-1931-earthquake buildings put up in Napier on the east coast.

  3. Steve - How about a post on The Enid?

  4. Ah... I always prefered Colchester to Chelmsford too.

    I think the old Odeon Cinema - already closed-for-business - appeared in a Star Wars documentary fronted by Dermot O'Leary!



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