Seaway decision must be made by beginning of next month

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A decision on the controversial £50million Seaway Leisure plans must be made by the beginning of June after Southend Council’s planning committee failed to agree on the development.

Members discussing the plans in January chose to defer the decision over concerns the site would not have enough parking spaces.

However, this put the entire scheme in jeopardy as it meant developer Turnstone was unable to get planning permission in the time allocated in an agreement with Southend Council, prompting the firm to lodge an appeal.

With the appeal process moving forward, the Government has asked that members of the committee meet again and decide to either approve or reject the plans – they cannot defer.

Their decision – which must be made by June 4 – will be sent to the inspectorate and be a vital component in deciding whether to uphold the appeal.

Turnstone claims it will bring the “best leisure experience” to Southend with an 11-screen cinema, a 20-lane bowling alley, a hotel and restaurants.

Councillor Nick Ward (Ind), who chairs the Development Control Committee, said: “We have to judge this on what we would have if it was not deferred. That judgement will go to the secretary of state so they can see our view if we hadn’t got to that point.

“We will be treating it like any other planning application, looking at the pros and cons and going from there. The committee’s decision will then be taken into account by the secretary of state.”

If the appeal is upheld, the inspectorate has the power to give Turnstone planning permission and override any concerns raised by the council or the community.

But if the appeal is rejected, the company would need to put together an entirely new application for the project to move forward.

This means that regardless of whether the committee approves or rejects the plans, it will still be only the secretary of state who can make the final decision.

Due to social distancing guidance, the committee meeting will take place remotely on May 27.

But Mr Ward added he has been in conversations with the council’s management team about whether it is appropriate for the meeting to take place because it is such an important scheme for the town.

“We are waiting for clarification on if we have to hold a meeting on such a big decision when we have to do it remotely,” he continued.

“It is not like a normal committee because we want to allow as many people as we can to speak on this but at the moment it is happening.”

The developer has also said the plans will generate an additional £15million each year for the local economy and create around 500 jobs.

However, critics of the scheme have said it will put other companies in jeopardy due to limited car parking and competing businesses.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter