Company leak reveals Southend Council ‘feasibility study’ to build houses on Gas Works car park

Southend Council commissioned a design company to draw up plans for housing developments on ten council-owned sites – including three major car parks, it has been revealed.

Details of the potential housing sites were revealed on the website of Troy Planning and Design on Thursday and indicated the Gas Works car park on the seafront, as well as Pitmans Close and Warrior Square could all be redeveloped in housing.

The council’s deputy leader Ron Woodley, who also oversees transport, admitted this information had been made public too soon but promised there is no chance that housing will be built on the Gas Works car park for years to come.

Cllr Woodley has spent months telling rival councillors the parking spaces at the Gas Works justified controversial plans to cut parking spaces and redevelop the Seaway car park into a new leisure centre.

He insisted the administration still does not have plans to stop using it as a car park and insisted the leaked information from Troy Planning does not undercut the argument he has made for Seaway.

He said: “We only had a meeting about this on Tuesday and I pointed out then we won’t be having housing on the Gas Works site as we have just spent money on increasing the parking there.

“This is just a feasibility study so they can ask us as a cabinet what we think. I told them we are using the Gas Works as a car park to service the seafront.”

However, Conservative Group leader Tony Cox said the fact the council is exploring building homes on the car park should have been made public months ago when the Seaway plans were being discussed by councillors.

He said: “This information should have been part of the Seaway decision. The administration lied and told us there would be surplus car parking but in fact there won’t be because the parking will be taken up by houses.

“People thought we were making it up that the Gas Works was a car park only temporarily but this shows this is an anti-car administration.”

Many of the details on the Troy planning website were later removed and the wording was watered down to indicate the plans are looking at the “art of the possible” and the sites are “mostly” in council ownership.

The importance of the Gas Works car park to Seaway

The council has spent years working with a developer to look at how to turn the Seaway car park into a major new leisure complex but setbacks have always centred around parking capacity.

Current plans for the Seaway car park, off Lucy Road, promise a raft of new restaurants, along with an IMAX cinema and hotel but they also mean seafront parking spaces being slashed from 661 to 555.

The current joint-administration has insisted reducing parking will not be a problem for seafront businesses because the council-owned Gas Works car park will be expanded with an extra 100 spaces and make up for those lost at Seaway.

However, the Conservative Group has remained unconvinced despite once supporting the plans when they were in administration.

The main reason for this is that the Gas Works is only a car park on a temporary five-year basis.

For it to operate longer than that, the council will need to apply for planning permission.

The Tories fear that using a temporary site to justify the cut in parking at Seaway is not good enough and believe there is a significant risk reduced parking will cause irreparable harm to seafront traders whose customers could end up with nowhere to park.

The logjam between politicians has led to the plans being with the secretary of state who will make a final decision but it is unclear whether that decision will be made with the knowledge the council is could eventually build homes on the Gas Works site.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter