Coronavirus scuppers Southend specialist college plan – now money needs to be paid back

The council did everything it could to stop the £18million plan for a new specialist college in the heart of Southend from being axed, the leader of the council has said.

The Forum 2 was a joint venture between Southend Council and South Essex College that would have created a teaching kitchen and restaurant, music recording studio, exhibition space and digital art workshop.

But last week it was revealed the ambitious plans for Elmer Approach next to the Forum Library had been cancelled due as they are no longer commercially viable due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is the biggest project to be impacted by the pandemic and during a council meeting on Tuesday, council leader Ian Gilbert said they had tried “every which way” to prevent it happening.

He said: “It is fair to say we have tried every which way to find a way of still delivering this project but under the circumstances the situation with our partner, it simply does not allow us to proceed with anything resembling the original scheme.”

The cancellation was down to the college being unable to fulfil its side of the partnership financially.

To be able to move ahead it would have needed an extensive redesign and this would have lost £6million of funding from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

The money now needs to be handed back, including £1.4million that has already been spent.

Councillor Kevin Robinson, who oversees culture and tourism, said: “The college has had massive changes in its student numbers and how it has education delivered in the current circumstances and the initial impact of that has affected the viability of Forum 2.

“It is fair to say the college have reaffirmed their commitment to the town a number of times and we had a number of joint meetings with the college and looked at a whole range of options to try and continue the project.”

He added: “External funding will need to be repaid and the current cost up to now will be split 50/50 between us and the college.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter