Coronavirus does not mean major leisure plans should be reconsidered, says councillor

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Councillors have said plans for major new leisure developments in Southend should not be reviewed in light of coronavirus.

In the months before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Southend Council had been working to move forward on a series of major regeneration projects ranging from the regeneration of Queensway to the development of a major new leisure centre on the Seaway car park.

The plan for Seaway, off Lucy Road, was to create a major year-round attraction with a cinema, restaurants and a bowling alley – all businesses heavily impacted by the stay indoors directive from the government as a result of the pandemic.

But the council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), who has strongly defended the Seaway plan, said leisure-focussed developments are still viable.

He said: “I think it is an exceptional situation and I believe people will want more of this sort of entertainment and a cinema going forward once the pandemic has decreased.

“If we were to say this is no longer viable then that should also apply to other businesses like Adventure Island, the Sealife Centre or even the pier.

“What we’ve got to do is make sure that after this crisis is over we can move forward with the kind of entertainment that residents want to enjoy.”

Mr Woodley’s comment were backed by Labour Councillor Matt Dent, who represent the Kursaal ward.

Mr Dent said: “Coronavirus is a once in a lifetime event. If we were to say that make the whole leisure industry un-viable then Southend has bigger problems than Seaway. I just don’t think it is true.

“In fact when this passes, and it will pass, I think the leisure and hospitality industry will have a boom because everyone has been cooped up indoors.”

He added: “If we question projects continuing because they were affected by coronavirus, we can say everything has been affected by coronavirus.”

But Conservative leader, Councillor Tony Cox, has said he believes “life as we know won’t be the same” once the pandemic has come to an end.

“The entertainment sector was already struggling with business models as a result of service such as Netflix and Amazon and restaurants were feeling the pinch before this began,” he said.

“When this comes to an end, people are going to struggle with income, are they going to have the level of disposable cash they once had?

“The economy is going to take a downturn, but we have to see what the recovery looks like to know whether those businesses are viable.”

He further explained that the virus will likely leave many existing businesses in difficult positions and the council’s first priority will need to be “getting business back on their feet”.

He added: “There will be economic turmoil and I think people will be forced to pause and reset; I genuinely think life as we know will not be the same after this.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter