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Opposition leaders are furious not to have been briefed about Southend Council’s decision to pump £10m into the Seaway leisure scheme.
The council announced it planned to give the £50million leisure scheme a cash boost because the developer, Turnstone Estates, was unable to find backers for the project on the Seaway car park off Lucy Road, Southend.
The cabinet proposal was announced late on Thursday without a briefing to Conservative councillors.
The scheme includes an 11-screen Empire cinema complex with IMAX, a 20-lane Hollywood Bowl, an 80-room Travelodge hotel and 555 public car parking spaces, with three restaurants and a new public square.
On Friday, Tory leader Tony Cox said he would fight the plan and others in his party quickly followed suit.
James Courtenay, Conservative councillor for Chalkwell, said: “Everyone was blind-sided by this. The first we heard of it was a council press release.
“I was always supportive of Seaway. It’s always been a bone of contention with the seafront traders but it always seemed to be a nice centralised area to have a hotel and a bowling alley.
“It has taken so long though. We must be two years past this administration’s last extension. This was the last chance saloon and yet the council is now going to throw in £10million to sweeten the deal.”
Mr Courtenay added: “These are complex decisions and most councillors aren’t in financial areas. Officers need to give us a full briefing.
“There will be differing views but given the current situation it might be the perfect time to take stock and decide whether it is still the right place for it. It may well be but it feels like this was all decided ages ago.”
Daniel Nelson, Conservative councillor for Southchurch ward, added: “This new proposal that they are putting in front of us is not good for the town and it’s not good for the taxpayer.
“We could spend that £10million on the Victoria shopping centre that they bought and have done nothing with or on the High Street.
“We’re paying £10million for a car park with less parking and it’s a very strange management position.
“We are going to lease it to Turnstone in order to have the rents and rates. It’s taken Turnstone a decade to get 70 per cent occupancy.
“Even I can see it’s a bad deal for the taxpayer and its going to be a white elephant in a few years’ time.”
Cllr Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council, said there was no intention of keeping any councillors in the dark.
He said: “They had the report the normal way and got it the same time as my members.
“We had discussions over the weekend. It was the same for everyone.”
“When you consider what’s happened with the killing of Sir David Amess, we’ve cancelled meetings at the request of the Conservatives and quite rightly. Officers have been planning his funeral and trying to keep normal business under way at the same time. We’ve got the problems with Vecteo and the school buses. There’s been a lot going on.”
Matt Dent, Labour councillor for Kursaal ward supports the scheme.
He said: “I think it’s looking at what’s best for the town. It’s a big opportunity and will be a massive benefit for the town.”