Decision on new Southend seafront leisure hub delayed amid fierce opposition from local businesses

A PLANNING meeting to rule on a planned new Southend seafront attraction was cancelled with one day’s notice, after consultants working for a rival business asked Government to intervene.

Councillors were due to meet this afternoon, November 27, to discuss a planned new £50million leisure hub, covering roughly 10 square kilometres of floor space.

The proposal includes an 11-screen cinema, a 20-lane bowling alley, an 80-room hotel, indoor golf, a climbing room, restaurants, cafés and takeaways.

But in a statement issued last night, Southend Council said it had been forced to axe the meeting after an objection was made directly to Government.

RPS Consulting – a firm which has been hired by the owners of the Adventure Island theme park – submitted a ‘screening direction’ directly to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The Secretary of State will be ‘asked to consider whether an environmental impact assessment is required in association with the development’.

The council was informed of the move at 6.38pm on Monday, November 25.

It said last night: “Having considered this matter, the council, as local planning authority, remains firmly of the view that an environmental impact assessment is not needed.

“Independent legal advice supports that conclusion and the necessary representations will be made to the secretary of state.

“In light of the referral and pending the decision of the secretary of state, the right thing to do is to cancel the scheduled meeting.”

Developer Turnstone Southend Ltd claims the new facility would create 500 jobs and generate £15million per year for the local economy.

But existing town centre businesses have raised repeated concerns about the impact of the proposed new development on traffic, car parking and on their businesses.

The Southend Seafront Traders Association and the Stockvale Group, which runs Adventure Island and the sea life centre, have both objected to the proposal. Stockvale has been represented by RPS in its complaints about the planned new attraction.

A report by council officers, which councillors had been due to debate in the meeting at 2pm today, said: “Concerns were expressed regarding the proposed leisure centre and facilities drawing business away from the town centre and High Street, which was noted as already financially struggling.”

Turnstone wants to build the facility on top of what is currently the Seaway Car Park – a nine-acre site with 661 parking spaces.

If approved, the development will be split into three buildings. The first, a ‘main leisure building’, would be up to six-storeys tall and would include a cinema, restaurants, cafés, takeaways and ‘other leisure uses’. It would have an adjoining multi-storey car park.

The second building would be a hotel, located towards the Queensway roundabout. Planning documents say the hotel is expected to be run by the Travelodge chain.

The third building would be a two-storey ‘detached smaller leisure, food and drink unit’, facing Lucy Road.

Between the multi-storey and planned ground level parking, the development would include 555 parking spaces.

Traders have raised concerns over what the new facility would mean for the availability of car parking spaces, and how this would affect existing businesses.

Data collected by Southend Council showed that during peak season – particularly summer weekends and bank holidays – the Seaway Car Park is typically full to capacity.

A report by council officers said consultees had pointed out that the ‘loss of the existing facility’ would be compounded by ‘an increase in demand’ for parking, caused by the new development.
In other words – more people would be trying to park, but the area would have suffered a net reduction of more than 100 parking spaces.

The report said local businesses had complained that existing parking and traffic problems were already causing a downturn in trade, so ‘longer travel times and lack of parking had the potential to deter visitors and harm trade’ even more.

But Highways England claimed the new facility would have a ‘negligible’ impact on local traffic and has raised no objections to the proposal.

Businesses have also raised complaints about the ‘duplication of facilities’, saying the town centre already has an Odeon cinema and other similar attractions.

Complaints from the Stockvale Group filled 12 pages of the 123-page planning report which councillors were due to consider, and another 55 pages in an appendix to the report.

But civil servants at Southend Council have recommended councillors grant planning permission.

Charles Thomson

Chief ReporterEmail: [email protected]