Southend Council under pressure after failure to publish Seaway report

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The information watchdog is pressuring Southend Council to publish a report on the £50million Seaway leisure complex after it failed to make the document public on two previous occasions.

The council’s clash with the Information Commissioner has come after the authority did not release a report on the redevelopment of the Seaway car park through a freedom of information request and later failed to comply with a demand from the commissioner’s office.

The freedom of information (FOI) request was submitted to the council in November by the consultancy firm RPS – a company employed by Adventure Island boss Philip Miller to scrutinise the Seaway leisure plans from developer Turnstone.

The company requested that the council publish an internal report from a team of landscape advisors after only a portion of the information was made public.

In the FOI request, RPS stated it wanted to see advisors’ comments so they can be “fact checked” ahead of a committee meeting which was set to make a decision on whether to grant planning permission to the development.

But the council did not release the information and RPS took the issue to the Information Commissioner on January 8, prompting the commissioner to write to Southend Council and tell them they need to publish the information by February 1 – a deadline the council failed to meet.

The commissioner has now contacted the council a second time and given them 35 days to publish the information.

A council spokesperson said: “A request for a significant amount of information was made by an agent about the proposed Seaway development, and the council did not respond within the specified deadline for this particular request.

“This request was on top of 23 other complex requests regarding Seaway and an unprecedented number of other correspondence and enquiries received by officers from across the council on this project.

“The agent complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and on February 11, the ICO, in accordance with their procedures, instructed the council to provide the information within a 35 day deadline. A response has now been sent to the agent well within that deadline along with an apology for the delay. We have also confirmed this to the ICO.

“The report to the Development Control Committee contained all the relevant information needed for councillors to make a proper assessment of the application on planning grounds.”

The problems are likely to inflame the already heated debate over whether the council should allow the Seaway car park to be redeveloped.

When the development committee met in January, councillors voted to defer the plans due to concerns over the number of parking spaces but this has thrown the entire project into jeopardy as Turnstone’s contract with the council ended just two days after the decision was made.

This week deputy council leader, Councillor Ron Woodley claimed Turnstone has appealed the decision and contract will have to be extended if the secretary of state sides with the developer.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter