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The £50million plan to build a leisure centre on the Seaway Car Park will continue after Southend Council leaders voted in favour of extending a contract with the developer.
Plans to build the major new leisure attraction have been in the works for more than five years but it they appeared to reach the end of the road when councillors voted to defer a planning application last month.
The deferral decision was made just two days before a contract between developer Turnstone Estates and Southend Council came to an end – a contract councillors had pledged not to extend.
But on Tuesday afternoon members of the council’s cabinet went back on their pledge because they believed ending the contract after the council’s development committee failed to make a decision would send a “horrendous” message.
Council leader Ian Gilbert said: “The real nub of this issue is that were this seen to be terminated under these circumstances when the developer has presented to us an application and yet as a planning authority failed to determine, I think this would send a horrendous message to those looking to invest in the town.
“I did say there wouldn’t be any second chances because I wanted Turnstone to get on with it. They have got on with it and presented us with an application.”
Deputy leader, Cllr Ron Woodley agreed with the leader, citing the development control committee’s failure to make a decision as the key reason for an extension. He also highlighted that an appeal has now been made to the secretary of state by Turnstone.
“Although in the past I said it should not go past January 17, I believe it should now go until we have a decision from the secretary of state,” he said.
Mr Woodley also stressed the benefits of the scheme which include up to £100million in business rates and the creation of around 500 jobs.
Council leaders have come under strong criticism from seafront traders over the decision, as the traders believe plans to reduce parking from the existing 661 parking spaces to 555 will kill business on the seafront.
One of the leading critics has been former chair of the Seafront Traders Association Paul Thompson.
After councillors expressed support for the extension, Mr Thompson interrupted the council leader to declare “a man’s word is his bond” before storming out.
Cllr Woodley addressed the parking issue by pointing out that the council is making a raft of changes to parking in the town, including expanding the Gas Works Car Park to have more than 200 spaces, turning the Tylers Avenue Car Park into a multi-storey and adding an extra 100 street spaces.
Cllr Carole Mulroney, who is also a member of the development committee, told the cabinet she felt “appalled” that members chose to defer the decision in January.
The council will now wait the outcome of a decision on the appeal, which could see the secretary of state grant Turnstone planning permission.