Councillors told ‘Southend deserves a better class of politics’ as Seaway row continues

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A councillor has told rivals that residents deserve ‘a better class of politics’ after revealing cancelling a leisure complex on the Seaway Car Park would cost millions.

Fierce arguments over whether the planned leisure centre off Lucy Road should be allowed to go ahead have plagued the council over the past six months and on Monday night Councillor Matt Dent (Lab) said cancellation would cost more than £3million.

Cllr Dent, who has previously opposed the plans, hit out at the Tories who called for Monday’s meeting, telling them using the issue for “political games” will make the town “un-investable”.

“There is £3million of Homes England money invested in this project and that is money we would have to repay if we broke this contract,” said Mr Dent.

“That is £3million out of our budget.

“It is an enormous amount of money that would have to go back to Homes England in order to play political games over a development scheme.”

He further warned that legal action from developer Turnstone Estates could mean the bill will be even higher.

He added: “I cannot in good conscience support a course of action that would damage future prospects of this town.

“Frankly I think Southend deserves a better class of politics.”

The Seaway meeting was called by Conservative councillors who objected to a cabinet decision to continue a contract with developer Turnstone Estates. But they also faced criticism from Labour councillor Daniel Cowan, who called the meeting a “farce” and a “waste of taxpayers money”.

The councillor pointed out the Tories had already tabled a motion over the issue, meaning more discussions will need to be held in the coming weeks at both a scrutiny meeting and a full council meeting.

Conservative leader, Councillor Tony Cox, defended the decision, claiming he was forced to call the meeting because Labour purposely dragged out a meeting held last week.

He made the claim, despite being responsible for cutting that meeting short by 25 minutes and refusing to debate the issue in the remaining time.

“It has been six years since the original agreement was signed,” he said.

“This scheme never went to tender. It was Turnstone that approached the council, with that in mind what is there to lose by going and tendering out this contract? There are significant concerns and issues.”

Cllr Cox went on to accuse council leaders of going back on comments made during a meeting in January last year.

He added: “We have to remember the leader, leader of the Labour group, said he was reluctant to extend the contract further but Turnstone should be given one last chance.

“It was also the deputy leader who said it was time for Turnstone to ‘get their act together for one final chance’.

“What we are saying is let’s make sure politicians are held to account for what they say.”

The aggressive debate over the £50million Seaway plans have also spilled out beyond the council chambers, with Cllr Cox sending an explicit poem via email to the council’s deputy leader Cllr Ron Woodley, accusing him of being a “hypocrite”.

A police investigation was also held into an email sent to councillors by leading Seaway critic and former chair of the Seafront Traders Association Paul Thompson with a picture of a stab vest and Mr Woodley’s name scrawled across it.

The investigation was later dropped, and Mr Thompson denied it was a threat to stab the councillor, he claimed Mr Woodley made false accusations.

Other arguments have occurred over social media where arguments, accusations and insults have broken out between all sides of the debate.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter