Plans to turn Leigh Library Gardens hall into a commercial unit vetoed

Plans to allow a hall in Leigh Library Gardens to be used as a commercial unit have been branded “immoral” and thrown out by Southend councillors.

An application to turn the small community hall intended to be used by fishermen into a mixed use hall – potentially for a therapy practice – was soundly refused at a development control meeting on Wednesday.

Peter Wexham, Lib Dem councillor for Leigh Ward said Leigh Port Partnership had “spent thousands” upgrading the former potting shed next to the library but had not had the opportunity to use it after Covid hit.

He said: “It should be used for what it was set up for but they’ve never had the chance. They could have association meetings in there.

“They could have training in there instead of having to go to Lowestoft. That’s what it was all about in the first place.

“It was built for the fishing industry to use. They’ve never said they didn’t want it. They’ve never had an option to use it.”

Cllr Wexham added: “If they are going to have this go ahead, the money from the fishing industry should be returned for some other project that improves the fishing industry in Leigh.

“It’s not just a case of diving in and using fishing money for the council to make a profit out of it for somebody else. It’s immoral. It’s completely wrong and I’m very angry that this has had to get this far. It’s outrageous that it’s come to this.”

While partially funded by the fishing industry, Carole Mulroney, Lib Dem councillor for Leigh Ward said the hall upgrade had also been funded by Southend Council “to the tune of £32,000”.

She said: “I do think it’s a totally inappropriate use within a public garden. The Leigh Library Gardens are a designated green space. The Leigh Library is a Grade II listed building and in a conservation area.

“I really do think that this is bringing a private, commercial development into what is a public open space and garden. I think it’s totally inappropriate.”

Leigh Conservation and Heritage also objected saying: “Allowing this change of use a dangerous precedent would be set for future intrusion of commercial uses into public assets such as the gardens.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter