‘Farce’ council meeting cost Southend taxpayers more than £500

A council meeting that was branded a “farce” and a waste of taxpayers’ money cost more than £500, new figures have revealed.

The special full council meeting held at the beginning or March was organised at the request of the Conservative group so councillors could discuss a contract that allows a developer to build a £50million leisure centre on the Seaway car park, off Lucy Road.

Tory leader, Councillor Tony Cox, wanted the meeting to take place because there was not enough time to discuss the issue during a meeting held the previous week.

But during the meeting, Councillor Daniel Cowan (Lab) called the meeting a “farce” and a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.

He pointed out that the meeting was unneeded because Cllr Cox’s party had already tabled a motion about the redevelopment plans, meaning more meetings will be held in the coming weeks at both a scrutiny meeting and a full council meeting.

A Freedom of Information request has now revealed that the special meeting – where no votes and no decisions were made – cost Southend taxpayers £531, including more than £230 spent on security and £200 for the meeting to be streamed online.

The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), said: “Ultimately the decision on the contract was one that has to be made by the cabinet. The meeting was pointless and couldn’t achieve anything, it was just the Tories trying to make statements to get approval from the critics of the scheme, the seafront traders.

“This was a delaying tactic.”

But Cllr Cox hit back, saying the meeting would not have been needed if there was time for discussions to take place the previous week.

He said: “This is the ironic thing, had they not tried to play politics with this we’d have had the debate at full council the week before.

“People want to hear discussion over controversial items and it was right and proper to have the debate and see where views are.

“It was not going to be hidden.”

The Tory leader said the recent outbreak of coronavirus raises further questions about whether building a major new leisure centre, like the one planned for Seaway, is viable.

“When we look at the fallout from this, there are going to be questions over whether this is even viable,” he continued.

“Many people are likely to be hitting the reset button on how they go about their business and how they do things as a natural consequence of what has happened, I genuinely think viability will be in question.”

Seaway Leisure is set to feature a number of businesses that are currently under threat as a result of the coronvirus pandemic.

If it goes ahead, it will bring an 11-screen IMAX Empire Cinema, 20-lane Hollywood Bowl, 80-bed Travelodge Hotel, restaurants and a new public square, with 555 car parking spaces in a new multi-storey building.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter