ONE of Burnham’s oldest businesses has announced it will close after plans to build homes on part of the site were rejected.

R.J. Prior and Sons yacht builders have been in Burnham for 126 years.

A proposal was put forward, by managing director Robin Prior, to transform one of the company’s storage sheds into seven homes.

He claimed approval was necessary for the survival of the boatyard and, following the council’s decision, has announced Priors will no longer operate.

He said: “Priors Boatyard, one of Burnham’s oldest businesses will be clearing their affairs ashore and afloat and closing down.

“This is another bad decision made by Maldon on behalf of Burnham.

“It is bad for the boatyard, our workers and the associated trades; it is bad for yachtsmen and the wider East coast.

“I am devastated my family, who arrived in the early 1800s, spanning seven generations, who were instrumental in bringing both the railway and yachting to the town have been treated in this way.”

The decision, which was delegated to one of the council’s planning officers, was taken in part due to risks of flooding.

The decision notice read: “The development would result in an unjustifiable loss of employment land and part of a site that contributes to the tourist attraction of Burnham to the detriment of the community.”

The application caused controversy with campaign group Maritime Burnham set up with the objective of preserving the site.

A spokesman for the group said: “We welcome the decision to refuse permission for the conversion of the boat storage facility to housing.

“The council decision respects the neighbourhood plan which was overwhelmingly supported in the town’s referendum.

“Several planning issues made this decision almost inevitable and it represents a vote for Burnham’s future as a maritime town and shows our town planning process can protect land uses from purely commercial pressures.

“The district council has laid down an important marker for the future of Burnham’s quayside.”

Mr Prior responded: “The irony is the redevelopment of our dilapidated quayside boat store, that would have thrown the yard a vital lifeline, was foiled by a group who’s claimed aim is ‘helping Burnham’s waterfront’, and a neighbourhood plan among other things written ‘to protect the existing character of the riverfront by safeguarding existing river related employment uses’.”

Questions have been raised about Maldon District Council allowing an officer to make a decision resulting in the closure of the historic building and loss of jobs rather than leaving it to elected representatives to decide on the merits of the application.

A spokesman for the council said: “It was not considered this application met the criteria that required it to be determined by the south east area planning committee and was duly determined by officers under delegated authority.

“The council would be keen to work with the developer, through the standard pre-application process, to investigate the opportunities to overcome the concerns raised to the previous scheme.”