D-Day approaches for £50million Seaway Leisure complex

A decision on whether to grant planning permission to one of the most controversial developments plans will take place at the end of the month.

Plans to turn the council-owned Seaway car park into a major new leisure development, complete with an IMAX cinema, a bowling alley and a climbing wall, have been under heavy scrutiny for years and on November 27 it could be granted planning approval.

Southend Council has scheduled the special Development Control Committee meeting to focus entirely on whether the plans should go ahead.

It will take place less than two months before a contract between the council and developer Turnstone Estates comes to an end.

If councillors choose not to grant planning permission or wish to see changes, they will have to grant an extension to the contract which expires on January 17.

But when the same contract was extended the first time in February, councillors including council leader Ian Gilbert said the extension was to give Turnstone “one last chance”.

Deputy council leader, Councillor Ron Woodley, who agreed to the extension at the beginning of the year described some of the potential outcomes of the decision.

He said: “If this is refused then the developer would, like everyone else have the right to appeal it and if that takes place, we would have to hold any decision on terminating contract until that has been upheld or refused.

“If the committee approves it then I suspect some of those who oppose it such as the Stockvale Group or seafront traders may want a judicial review and that would also take time and again that would put it on hold, with the council unable to do anything until after a review has taken place.”

The councillor went on to say that while the Seaway car park is a good site for redevelopment, he feels that if approval is not granted by the end of the contract “this is the last chance for turnstone to act accordingly”.

Turnstone has faced fierce opposition to their plans from seafront traders, including leading businessman Philip Miller who owns Adventure Island. Mr Miller has warned that if planning approval is given it will mean the “extinction” of his business.

Other concerns have centred around the council’s agreement that Turnstone would pay £282,000 in rent – a figure based on the parking income in 2014 – but five years on, the council is believed to be making more than £600,000.

Critics say this means taxpayers will be missing out on millions of pounds but the council has defended the contract because the rent figure does not take into account the current costs for maintaining the car park or the income that will be generated from business rates.

While the development will include a multi-storey car park with 555 parking spaces, critics have also argued this is not enough and will cause significant harm to seafront businesses. Their arguments centre around the fact that there are 660 spaces available at the existing car park.

The meeting will take place at 2pm on November 27 at Southend’s Civic Offices.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter