On Wednesday’s crucial Development Control Committee, a narrow margin of councillors voted in favour of granting planning permission to the controversial scheme.
Despite staunch opposition from neighbouring residents and vocal pleas from many seafront businesses, a proposal to refuse the scheme was narrowly rejected by seven votes to nine and the majority voted in favour of the plans.
The Green Party have campaigned against these plans since 2015 when the Conservative administration leased the land at Seaway Car Park to the developers, Turnstone Southend Ltd, for just £1.00.
It is thought that a major influence behind the council’s decision is that if the scheme is rejected, the council would be forced to repay the government £3m which has already been invested in the project.
What is the Seaway Leisure Complex?
In late 2015, plans were announced for a major redevelopment on the land at Seaway car park, one of the largest car parking areas serving the main seafront attractions. The land at Seaway was controversially leased to the developer Turnstone Estates, by the then-Conservative administration for just £1.00, in a deal which would see Turnstone foot the bill for the development and future rents going to the council.
This scheme was one of the many white-elephant vanity projects peddled by the Conservative administration, and it has since garnered support from the recent Labour/Independent/Liberal alliance.
Following the loss of initial support from Cineworld, in 2017 Empire Cinemas was announced as a new investing partner into the scheme alongside Travelodge Hotels, with later Hollywood Bowl committing to the scheme in early 2018.
(Plans for the scheme were submitted in December 2018.)
In late 2018, Turnstone Estates submitted a planning application for a development consisting;
- a six-storey, 80-bedroom Travelodge hotel,
- a 20-lane Hollywood Bowling alley,
- an 11-screen Empire Cinema with IMAX facilities,
- active attractions including an indoor golf course, a climbing wall, and a gym,
- 10 new restaurants and cafes,
- a new public realm and landscaped square surrounding St John The Baptist church,
- and a new 555 space multi-storey car park.
A two-year planning dispute followed the planning application, with many residents and major seafront businesses airing their concerns over issues from a reduction in parking provision, the duplication of existing facilities in the town, and overall visual impact on the area.
Fighting largely over a 100-space decrease in seafront parking provision, Adventure Island was a staunch opponent of the scheme saying: “All we ask is that Southend Borough Council values Southend tourism and recognises that this development is wrong for the town.”
With the contract nearing expiry, the developer lodged an appeal to the planning decision, and the Council have now buckled. This scheme now only requires government approval.
Green Party candidate for Leigh Ward, Thomas Love offers his thoughts:
“As a former employee of the Odeon in Southend, I know how important it is to so many of us.
I believe the building serves a purpose beyond just a cinema; I honestly see it as the heart of the High Street. Even if you disregard all the time spent watching films there, it’s a landmark when asking for directions, a warm place to duck into while waiting to meet friends and yes… it seems to be the town’s most popular loo!
In fact, due to its late opening hours, the Odeon has even been used by vulnerable people seeking help at night on rare occasions.
I include myself in the countless number of people whose first ‘no-grownups’ outing was to the Odeon. For so many parents to trust the Odeon with their children’s independence is a testament to the safe environment the staff are able to maintain. It helps that the Odeon at Southend couldn’t be better positioned for public transport, being a minutes’ walk from a train station, several bus stops and a taxi rank.
Some may argue that an additional cinema in Southend would bring a wider variety of film screenings but this argument holds little weight when the smallest amount of scrutiny is applied to it. As an 8-screen multiplex with over 1500 seats, Odeon Southend can and does regularly screen indie films, foreign cinema and documentaries when massive blockbusters dominate smaller cinemas.”
The Green Party View:
Our belief is that such a significant development was a landmark opportunity to improve a large part of the Town centre for better. We support the use of brownfield land such as Seaway for the sustainable development of our town, and we do not object to it being developed on. Such a site could have played host to some amazing leisure and commercial attractions that add to the existing offer of the town, rather than seeking to undermine and undercut existing ones as this current plan does.
We cannot support this development because of the following:
The existing ODEON cinema at the head of the high street is already a fantastic facility for the town. Building another much-bigger cinema just a short walk from the existing one will cause untold damage to that business’ trade, and potentially (and unnecessarily) risks the jobs of the ODEON employees, and further risks the town yielding yet another large empty building with no use if the existing cinema ceases trading.
The town’s beloved Kursaal, an iconic listed landmark with a perilously uncertain future. For years it has hosted the town’s main Bowling alley. In early 2019, MFA closed the bowling alley in the Kursaal, with many customers and residents suggesting that the Seaway’s proposed bowling alley was a major contributing factor to the company’s decision.
Without this bowling alley, the Kursaal now faces a situation where it is predominantly empty, sparking fresh concerns over the safety and policing of it. As recent history shows us, empty buildings in Southend have an unsettlingly-high chance of suffering devastating arson attacks. Finding a new use for the Kursaal now needs to be a top priority for the Council if we are to ensure its longevity.
Town Centre Retail:
The town’s High Street is struggling. Following the loss of some major retailers, the future for the High Street looks grey. With a shifting customer base moving to online deliveries, and with a council that seems to view the High Street only as an opportunity to build luxury housing, our town centre seriously needs rejuvenating. Both of the town centre shopping centres (The Royals, and The Victoria) are half-empty, with struggling and declining footfall. Southend High Street is failing to compete with the internet and the megamalls of Lakeside and Bluewater.
The kinds of leisure and restaurant businesses this development will attract will be good for local employment, and will hopefully encourage more people into our town centre. Our concern is that with the creation of this retail zone annexed from the High Street, the significant shift in footfall patterns might lead to further complications for our struggling shopping centres, inadvertently creating a new shopping area that rivals rather than supplements our High Street.
We are saddened by this decision, and we reject the assertions from Independent and Labour councillors that such a development will be beneficial for our town and ailing High Street.
The concerns we have with this scheme remain unaddressed, and we fear that without proper assistance and investment from our Council, the future of our High Street is uncertain.
The final decision on this development now rests with the Secretary of State.