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A developer hoping to transform the Seaway car park into a major leisure attraction in Southend could win an appeal against the council after a planning committee told the Government it should go ahead.
Plans to build a new cinema and bowling alley along with a range of restaurants were deferred in January due to concerns over the number of parking spaces which will be cut from 661 to 555.
However, this jeopardised the entire scheme 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.
As part of the appeals process, the Government asked members of the Development Control Committee to meet again and decide to either approve or reject the plans.
On Wednesday, a divided committee voted in favour of the plans going ahead – leaving the final decision in the Government’s hands.
Speaking at the meeting, was the council’s deputy leader Councillor Ron Woodley who the committee that the plans were a “golden opportunity” to “breathe new life into the town centre”.
Addressing the car parking concerns, he explained he hoped to create hundreds of new parking spaces in the surrounding area, including turning Tylers Avenue and York Road car parks in multi-storeys.
He said: “This is an increase of 826 car parking spaces in total which does not include the plans to re-surface Southchurch Park East and East Beach car parks to help visitors who just want to go to our beaches.”
He further highlighted the development will bring an extra 550 new jobs to the borough.
But speaking against the plans was Adventure Island owner Philip Miller who said in a statement, any reduction in parking spaces would “put all seafront businesses in jeopardy”.
Committee member, Independent councillor Brian Ayling, was also critical of the plans and said Turnstone had “treated the thoughts of councillors with contempt” by lodging and appeal rather than working with them to resolve concerns.
He added: “To be honest, I welcome the planning inspector getting involved in this. If we reject, he will make the decision and I have a lot of faith in the planning inspectorate.”
However, Labour councillor Matt Dent told the committee: “I don’t see any valid planning reason to reject this scheme”.
The council’s planning officers also stressed it was their view the plans do meet the requirements needed to be granted planning permission.
In the end a proposal to refuse was narrowly rejected by seven votes to nine and the majority voted in favour of the plans. The decision will now go to the secretary of state who will make a final decision.