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Developers behind Southend’s Seaway leisure scheme have been accused of milking public funds by councillors who were told they would not be able to see details of a £10million deal.
Opposition councillors on the policy and resources scrutiny committee grilled the administration and council officers over the Seaway deal on Wednesday.
The plan centres on a new cinema, restaurants and a hotel, which will be built on the Lucy Road car park.
The council is backing the development with £10million after Turstone Estates said the scheme had become financially unviable.
Matt Dent, councillor for Southchurch ward asked if councillors would be able to see the final agreement before it was signed off.
Ian Gilbert, leader of the council said it was “commercially sensitive”.
The council’s agreement with Turnstone, will see it pay an annual rent into an annuity in return for revenue from parking and rents on the new complex.
Cllr Dent asked how much rent the council would have to pay into the scheme but Alan Richards, the council’s director of housing and growth, said: “The precise rent the council will need to pay the fund will be a matter that will be set through a marketing exercise.”
He added: “At this point the rent is not known.”
Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group said he had “deep concerns” over the scheme.
He said: “I’ve always been of the view that the council should be an enabler. This isn’t enabling because it puts us at direct competition for income with other businesses out there.
“We have a car park that we own. We are going to give it away to then take a car parking income back at the cost of £10 million with less spaces.”
Speaking after the meeting, Tim Deacon, director of Turnstone Estates, defended the deal.
He said: “The opposition are treating the £10million as a subsidy but they’ve really got to look at it in terms of an investment. These sort of arrangements are going on all over the country. Officers have decided that investing £10million improves the over all return to the council.”
The scheme was referred to full council.