£550m schemes could be scrapped under Southend Tories

A pair of developments in Southend totalling £550 million are at risk under the city council’s new Tory administration.

Tony Cox, the new leader of Southend City Council, has confirmed that filling in the underpass – under plans for the £500 million Queensway regeneration scheme – is now completely off the table.

The new administration is also set to scrap the controversial £50 million Seaway leisure complex altogether, and increase car parking spaces at the site off Lucy Road.

The financial viability of the Queensway scheme, which was set to also deliver 1,700 new homes, cafes, restaurants and community spaces, hinged on the underpass being filled in to accommodate more homes.

As a result it is unclear whether the scheme will go ahead.

The future of the project had already been complicated by financial difficulties of the council’s partner Swan Housing. The firm has since been taken over by Sanctuary Housing.

Cllr Cox said: “We want to know exactly where we are with Sanctuary but we’ve made it clear that closing the Queensway underpass will not be part of any scheme.

“It was always marginal affordability right from the very outset. Equally we can’t have the city grinding to a halt, which is what would happen without the underpass.”

Cllr Cox said properties in the four Queensway tower blocks – which have been left vacant because they are due for demolition under the scheme – will now be used for housing.

He said: “It seems absurd that we’ve got a housing waiting list the length of our arm and we’ve got empty properties. That’s crazy.

“We want to fill those voids – even if it’s only on a temporary basis should any scheme happen at all.

“Regeneration does need to happen but it’s got to be the right regeneration, it’s got to be affordable, and it’s got to provide the city with an attractive ambience coming in”

Mike Smith, who lives in the Malvern tower block and sat on a residents steering group set up by Swan Housing when the scheme was launched in 2014, said the news was disappointing.

He said: “ It was stated at the time that Swan Housing would not be able to go ahead with the design if the underpass wasn’t filled.

“They need a completely new design which is going to cost millions of pounds.

“It’s disappointing. Are we going to have another 10 years of procrastination? Nine years later and not one spade of earth has been dug.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter