Marine Plaza developer goes bust

The developer behind a huge £100million scheme on Southend seafront which would have seen flats, cafes and bars created has gone into liquidation and the site put up for sale.

Inner London Developments Ltd were behind the ambitious Marine Plaza scheme which gained planning permission in 2015.

But it has now been revealed the company is in liquidation and the land could end up as a car park, boot sale or events site in the short term.

It is understood the site has gone up for sale, for an as yet undisclosed pricetag.

The failed project included 282 apartments, restaurants, cafes and bars overlooking the Golden Mile but a series of set-backs, including financial crises and Covid and lockdown prevented it taking off.

The prominent site opposite the Kursaal has long been boarded up and has become overgrown.

Seafront trader Martin Richardson, owner of the Happidrome, has revealed he has taken over management of the site for an offshore owner.

He said: “Where it was just left a total bomb site, that is being completely addressed and cleared and all the vegetation is all being taken away.

“I’m working on behalf of the owners. It’s being totally cleared and then decisions will be made. The site is up for sale and is being marketed but it looks like a derelict piece of land at the moment.

“It’s a complete and utter eyesore. The hoardings have all been tagged with graffiti and it’s right on my door step. Everybody was moaning about it.”

Mr Richardson added: “The Inner London Group were just land agents. The land is owned by people from abroad. It’s got permission for a car park so it’s a possibility that might happen.

“We all know Southend desperately needs parking but until it’s all cleared up and addressed we’ll see what happens. It could be flats, a car park, an events area, a market, a boot sale, concerts, a winter wonderland. There are endless possibilities.”

The huge increase in the cost of building materials in recent years means any new owner of the land is unlikely to go forward with a scheme in its current form.

Inner London Developments Ltd is listed by Companies House as being in liquidation and in the hands of receivers, Greenfield Recovery.

We don’t need another car park

The Mayor of Southend has said the seafront’s former gas works site could be freed up for housing if the Marine Plaza land becomes a car park.

Ron Woodley said the gas works cark park, which has previously been marked as a possible future residential development site, could be used for much needed homes.

Speaking after it was revealed the Marine Plaza site was up for sale, he said: “I’d like to see the site completed. There is planning permission already for 282 flats with commercial properties under it.

“Whatever other use as it goes forward, it will have to go through planning permission. I don’t see a need for another car park because we’ve got the Esplanade car park on the old gas works site.

“The planning permission for a car park was only temporary but If it turns out they put it in as a car park that means the old gas works site could be converted into apartments.”

Cllr Woodley has been outspoken about developers who are allowed to “land bank” and sit on schemes for years after gaining planning permission. He called on the government to introduce a law which would see developers paying the council tax on homes they have failed to build.

He added: “In some ways I’m glad that Inner London Group are no longer involved. They’ve had it long enough.

“I think after two years if no meaningful development takes place we should be entitled to charge council tax or business rates. I think we should now wait for the sale to go through and decide through development control what planning applications might come through. It’s a prime location. There is a need for high quality, good value flats.

“Something needed to be happening there. It’s a large site with plenty of opportunity.”

Daniel Cowan, leader of the council, said: “There is an option to use part of the site for parking but we need to see what happens with the sale. The important thing is that the site isn’t left unused in the long-term and we look forward to seeing what could come forward.”

Paul Thompson, a member of the Seafront Traders’ Association, added: “It’s good that they are clearing it. That’s positive. It shows that something is possibly going to happen there.

“I just hope the site can be brought back into use in whatever form it takes. We’ll have to wait and see what that is.”

Floundered

Marine Plaza is not the only multi-million development scheme which has floundered on the seafront.

The £70million Seaway leisure complex planned for the Lucy Road car park is unlikely to ever see the light of day.

Turnstone Estates signed a deal with Southend Council to deliver and build an 11-screen Empire Cinema with IMAX, a 20-lane Hollywood Bowl, and a Travelodge hotel, bars and restaurants on the site.

So far, the company has failed to find investors despite a pledge by the council for a £10million investment from its capital reserves designed to encourage other investors to get on board.

This would see the council tied into a 40-year annuity leasing agreement, after which it would have the opportunity to buy the whole development for a nominal £1.

The deal would only be triggered once other investors get on board however and this would have to happen before the deal with the council comes to an end next year.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter