Developers behind a £50m Southend seafront cinema and leisure scheme insist plans will go ahead after concerns emerged over the future of the ambitious project.
Work has yet to start on the scheme – on the Seaway car park – which includes an 11-screen Empire Cinema complex, a 20-lane Hollywood Bowl and an 80-room Travelodge.
Senior councillors say they feared the scheme may no longer be viable following the pandemic.
It was even suggested the Seaway car park could be kept open.
However, developer Turnstone Estates says it is still on track to open in 2023 with talks with “three exciting restaurants” to join.
The council would have received £282,000 per year for a long-term lease as well as business rates. However, with no sign of work starting, Cllr Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council said alternatives had to be explored.
He said: “Seaway is still not at the point of going ahead but the Government is pressuring us to build all these homes. Is the current Seaway project still a viable option? If Turnstone are walking away is there another option there? It will be up to officers to check out. At the beginning of 2020 we gave Turnstone our support to get moving. I know COVID got in the way but a year-and-a-half on, I haven’t heard what the situation is.”
Mr Woodley, who was an avid backer of the plan, has now admitted he would “rather have the parking revenue”.
He added: “Is it still a viable option? Does it make sense to give up car parking revenue? We need to find out if the original agreement is still viable. That will be up to our legal team but I’d rather have the parking revenue.
“We’ve done our bit putting in extra parking on the gasworks site and Southchurch Park East and we’re looking at parking in the town centre at the Victoria site or building a multi-storey at Tylers Avenue.
“With the cultural regeneration of the town centre we’ve got to make sure we cover all bases. I’m getting sick and tired of us saying we’re going to proceed with the masterplan but seven years on we’re still thinking about it.”
The Seaway plan was bitterly opposed by seafront traders over the potential loss of parking.
Turnstone’s Tim Deacon said: “Since obtaining planning permission last year we have been working hard with our occupiers and the council to ensure Seaway is delivered as soon as possible.
“Earlier in the year we commissioned independent research to ask what people in Southend wanted in their town. I can reveal that 81 per cent of respondents say they need more leisure facilities in Southend. This confirms that Seaway is needed more than ever.
“The £50m regeneration project will also generate 550 new jobs and turbo-charge the town centre economy by £15m every year. I am also very close to finalising terms with three exciting restaurants concepts. The opening of Seaway in 2023 will come at the perfect time.”