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It would be “catastrophic” for Southend Council to cut short a contract with the developer behind the Seaway Leisure complex, the leader of the council has said.
Developer Turnstone was handed a contract by Southend Council to redevelop the Seaway car park, off Lucy Road, into a major new leisure attraction.
It would bring to Southend a new cinema with IMAX screen, along with a bowling alley and restaurants.
But the plans have been stuck in limbo since January when the council chose not to approve planning permission.
Councillors instead told Turnstone to rethink the number of planned parking spaces but they made the decision just one day before Turnstone contract with the council was due to end.
As a result, Turnstone has appealed to the secretary of state resulting in an extension of the contract.
While the decision is still pending, Conservative councillors called on the council leaders to cut the contract short during a Full Council meeting on Thursday.
Labour council leader Ian Gilbert told said the move would be “catastrophic”.
He said: “Our partners, Turnstone, presented us with a planning application within the time frame available. We then decided not to determine it, we then decided that if we did determine it, we would have approved it, whether or not it is legally a sound basis to break a contract, I don’t believe it is a strong moral case to exercise a break clause.
“I also believe it would be catastrophic to the confidence of anybody that has dealings with the council if we were to exercise a break clause in these circumstances.
“By keeping the contract valid and on the table, there is no financial risk to the council. We will assign this lease on return for a guaranteed minimum income and maintain the freehold of the car park. If the development does not go ahead, we retain the car park.
“That is the worst outcome there could be for this council.
“The worst outcome is simply the status quo. But on the other side of the scales, we have a chance to actually bring new jobs, new investment and a new attraction to the town and it is about giving confidence that Southend is a place to come, to work with the council, to do business, to put investment in and to create jobs.
“It would be wholly wrong under the circumstances to break this contract.”
The Tories, along with several seafront traders, say a leisure complex needs a far greater number of spaces than the 555 that are being proposed by Turnstone.
Councillor Kevin Buck (Con) also said on Thursday that Covid-19 is another reason to rethink the plans.
He said: “Many of those companies that made commitments to take on leases such, as restaurants and cinema chains, are significantly cutting back on their retail outlets so there is no guarantee those who have made commitments will continue to do so.”