Southend Council leader calls time on Seaway scheme

The leader of Southend City Council has said it is “time to move on” from the controversial Seaway leisure scheme.

Planning permission for the leisure complex on the Lucy Road car park was granted in 2020 on appeal but not a brick has been laid since.

Councillors have previously raised concerns that the scheme is no longer viable because of the impact of inflation on the construction industry.

Now, despite Turnstone stating it is still committed to the scheme and considering fresh plans for a reduced leisure complex, Tony Cox, leader of the council remains convinced the current scheme is finished.

He said: “Who has he got? They clearly haven’t got the restaurant trades and the main tenant, the cinema, has gone into administration.

“The scheme hasn’t come forward in the last eight years means it’s not viable. My view is the current Seaway scheme as it is, is dead.”

Due to planning permission being granted previously at appeal, it is believed that a fresh application on reduced plans could once again win favour with the planning inspectorate even if refused by Southend Council.

Initially, the council’s development control committee failed to make a decision on the plans as debate raged on over the impact of a reduction in parking capacity close to the seafront.

As a result Turnstone lodged an appeal with the Government’s planning inspectorate.

Responding to Turnstone’s plans to potentially reduce the size of the scheme, Cllr Cox added: “I would need to see any details but if it still involved removing car parking spaces in a premium area and causing the issues that it did, I would say don’t bother.

“It’s one thing having something where you could put in planning permission and there is another thing coming to council to talk it through if the scheme is very different from the scheme you were proposing.

“Yes they could come through for outline planning permission, but I would still expect that discussion to be happening.”

Cllr Cox added: “I think this is the first recognition that the Seaway dream that was first initiated is dead in the water, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to come back. If the scheme’s dead, stop it and move on.”

Philip Miller, owner of Adventure Island, was one of the seafront traders who opposed the scheme. He said: “Their last attempt failed even with £10million gifted to them as seed money by the council. Their so called anchor tenant Empire theatres I in receivership. Next year due to the Hollywood strikes there will be no new films made this could bring even more casualties to the sector, restaurants are closing left right and centre. Where are these so called tenants coming from?”

Origins

Seaway leisure scheme first saw the light of day in 2015 when an agreement was announced for a major redevelopment on the land at Seaway car park.

The land, which had been earmarked for development since 2012, was leased to developer Turnstone Estates, by the then-Conservative administration for just £1 in a deal which would see Turnstone foot the bill for the development and future rents going to the council.

In May 2017 Turnstone finally announced it would deliver a scheme to rival Basildon’s Festival Leisure.

Director Tim Deacon announced plans for the 1,370-seat cinema along with the Travelodge Hotel, ten restaurants and cafes, two indoor leisure units, a public square and a multi-story car park would be lodged with the council in the summer of that year. Mr Deacon said he planned to start building in 2018 and to open in late 2019 or early 2020.
Plans weren’t submitted until 2018 and proved hugely controversial, with seafront traders angry at the loss of prime seafront parking space.

Full council debated the application in February 2019 and the application finally went before the development control committee in January 2020. It was then deferred and went to appeal.

The Planning Inspectorate upheld the appeal and issued its decision granting planning permission for the proposed development on October 9, 2020. Several extensions to the a council’s agreement with Turnstone were granted.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter