As Colchester Borough Council prepares to install another Elephant sculpture we must not forget the real Elephant in the room – Jumbo, or more accurately the Balkerne Water Tower. Built in 1883 this magnificent beast of Victorian engineering, driven by the simple desire to provide clean water to the people of Colchester, towers above us - penetrating the skyline and visible from a far.
Jumbo has had various owners since it was decommissioned as a water tower in the late 1980s. Planning permission was once granted to create two apartments at the top but the developer never went ahead. We also had a religious group using Jumbo’s impressive height to ‘literally’ get closer to God but perhaps the unbelievably narrow spiral staircase and some 150+ steps proved too much for them?
And then in more recent times we’ve seen property developers’ requests to glaze in the ‘legs’ and create mixed use development fail to persuade the Planning Committee. As time ticks on we can all put forward our views on what we might like to see happen to Jumbo, and so I shall - for I would love to see a restaurant in the sky with a viewing platform accessible to all via a lift.
The good news is the current owner has been involved in open-minded discussions about a long-term sustainable solution for Jumbo. A Heritage Lottery Fund bid to assist in this vision was unsuccessful but there are a collection of committed conservationists, planners, architects and Councillors who are determined to try and resolve the Jumbo challenge. I am one of those Councillors, and along with the Liberal Democrat and Labour party Leaders, I believe we have a consensus and a positive attitude to resolve this.
Winning external grant funding won’t be easy, especially as the pot of funds derived from the National Lottery have halved, but we must once again try and get this win for Colchester. I know Colcesterians have a strong affection for Jumbo but I wonder if this affection would translate into a desire to ‘sponsor a brick’ or use limited Council funds to help make the Jumbo dream become reality?
We all know that traditional town centre retail is changing and we can be pretty certain the internet isn’t being turned off so our ‘High Streets’ must adapt. Colchester is well positioned to thrive because of our incredible heritage attractions and cultural offerings. Globally tourism is booming and we must seize this opportunity to improve the wealth and vitality of our Old Town centre.
We have Britain’s Oldest Roman Town/City* Walls, the world’s largest Norman Castle, Britain’s First Christian Church, the only known Roman Circus (racetrack) in the country and so much more. Maybe one day people will refer to Jumbo as Colchester’s Eiffel Tower – who knows but if we do manage to pull it off I’ll see you at the top with a Gin and Tonic stargazing with the words to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star circulating in my head.