New building for learning and performing arts set to be built in Westcliff

Budding artists, actors and chefs could soon have a wealth of new learning facilities as part of a new education centre set to be built in Westcliff.

A new four-storey learning centre is being developed as a joint venture between Southend Council and South Essex College with the aim of creating better facilities for subjects such as performing arts.

Ahead of a Development Control Committee meeting next week, the council’s planning team has recommended the scheme is granted planning permission.

If it gets the go-ahead it will be built on land adjacent to the Forum library and include a teaching kitchen and restaurant, a music recording studio, an exhibition space and a digital artist workshop, along with three performance studios and meeting rooms.

It will also include three new restaurants that will be open to the community.

In planning documents, the applicant states: “Together these facilities will further establish Elmer Square as the centre of Southend’s further and higher education offer, with the library, providing a modern integrated centre of learning and research that meets the varied needs and requirement of residents, students, business people and visitors alike.

“Users benefit from a cluster of learning, research and cultural facilities located within the heart of the town centre served by excellent public transport links.”

Angela O’Donoghue, principal of South Essex College said: “This new facility will allow us to increase our popular digital, media, music and performing arts offer in Southend plus provide the town with a new restaurant, benefiting students and the local communities we serve.”

While South Essex College will be the primary user of the site, the council will also offer workspaces that can be hired by businesses, as well as meeting and seminar rooms.

Construction of the building is expected to cost £6million of which the council is providing £2.7million and the college is providing the rest.

Ten residents living close to the site have raised concerns about the plan. Council documents show letters of opposition highlight the lack of a public consultation, the “overbearing” nature of the building and the potential for the design to “quickly look dated”.

The council’s planning team said these are “not found to represent a reasonable basis to refuse planning permission”.

A final decision on the plan is expected to be made on Wednesday.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter