Delay could mean end of the road for Seaway leisure centre plan

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In a major blow to developer Turnstone Estates, a plan to transform the Seaway Car Park into a £50million leisure complex has been deferred putting the future of the scheme in jeopardy.

It took more than five years for the plan to reach the council’s development committee and on Wednesday afternoon councillors concluded that they had still not been given enough information to justify planning permission.

The decision potentially means the end of the road for the ambitious plan because without planning permission a contract between the council and Turnstone will expire on Friday.

Wednesday’s meeting was dominated by questions about the number of parking spaces. Currently the car park offers 661 spaces but the leisure development will drop that to 555.

Members of the council’s planning team repeatedly told the committee that data shows this level of parking is “sufficient” and further stressed the development would not have a significant impact on the highway network.

But councillors were left unconvinced, particularly as much of the data used by the council dates back to 2015.

Independent councillor, Brian Ayling, said: “All the data we’ve used here is about five years old and some was taken on a winter’s day so it isn’t good. If we look at the data again today and it shows to be quite different from five years ago would we still be recommended to approve this?”

He added: “I would not want to refuse this as that would cause this council a lot of problems, the developer a lot of problems and there would be unnecessary expense.

“If we defer this with the opportunity for Turnstone to listen to everything we’ve said then come back with another proposal that fits what Southend needs and wants then that is a positive step forward.”

Cllr Alan Dear (Con) said: “My main concern is the parking I am very concerned about the number of spaces allocated so I support deferring this.”

Leader of the Conservatives, Cllr Tony Cox is not a member of the committee but also spoke in oppsoition to the plans.

He said: “We need to look at how the surveys were done. The parking survey was done April 2015, we’re now in 2020. I will bet my bottom dollar that how people come to seafront has changed and this survey was done on a rainy day.

“I think we should defer until at least new surveys are done.”

But not all members were concerns, with he Liberal Democrats and the Labour group urging the committee to approve the plans.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Carole Mulroney said the benefits of the scheme clearly outweighed the negatives and stressed the a deferral would make little difference.

She said: “This is not a conservatory where we are asking them to change a window design. Any changes will need to be major and a deferral will not solve that. Have the courage of your convictions and approve or refuse it.”

In the end eight councillors, predominantly from the Conservatives voted to defer the plans, while six voted to approve them.

The deferral puts council leaders in a difficult position as the only way they can allow Turnstone to come back with a refined plan would be to extend the council’s contract with the company.

When a previous extension was granted in February last year both council leader Ian Gilbert and deputy council leader Ron Woodley declared it would be for the “last time”.

If councillors choose not to extend that contract the scheme could be scrapped entirely.

One of the scheme leading critics and former chair fo the Seafront Traders Association Paul Thompson declared the scheme “dead”.

He said: “The deadline for this scheme is in two days time. The leader of the council has fully gone on record and said he would not under any circumstances extend this deadline.

“Therefore the Seaway development in its present guise is well and truly dead.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter