Backtrack on Seaway parking sparks backlash

A Conservative councillor has credited his colleagues for admitting they got things wrong when signing a deal for the proposed Seaway Leisure development that will mean the loss of more than 100 parking spaces.

When they were in control of the council the Tories defended the controversial plan to build a multi-million pound leisure centre on the Seaway car park with just 555 parking spaces rather than retaining the existing 661.

But when the development was discussed on Monday night, the Tories pressed the new Labour-led administration to agree to include the full 661 parking spaces at minimum.

The new council leaders have rejected the call on the grounds that the number of parking spaces was part of the terms of a contract agreed by Conservative administration.

At Monday’s Place Scrutiny Committee meeting, meeting chair Councillor Andrew Mooring (Con), said: “I think it is very good that some people have admitted they were wrong after reconsideration and many years have passed as well, but we are where we are.”
Cllr Peter Wrexham (Lib Dem), who opposed the development before the contract was signed, said: “Nearly all of the Conservatives have voted for this twice and never thought twice about it.

“Two weeks after they lose control of the council they suddenly decide there are too few parking spaces on leases that have been signed off twice.

“It has been completely signed off and it would be a breach of a contract for us to try and change it.”

The decision by the Tories to backtrack on the issue has left campaigners frustrated that the issue appears to have become a political football.

The chair of Southend’s Seafront Traders Association, Joan Tiney, spent months campaigning with seafront traders against the leisure centre and said the situation has become “ridiculous”.

“We said in the beginning when the Tories were in administration that we need more parking,” she said.

“They were out of office just over a week before they were suddenly saying it needs more parking.

“The way the Tories are carrying on is ridiculous, this whole thing could have been dropped when the developer failed to get planning permission in December, which was a term the council had agreed to, but instead it came back to life when Turnstone were given an extension.

“The way this is being used politically is very frustrating and annoying and it feels like we are powerless to do anything.”

At the end of Monday’s meeting, councillors voted in favour of referring the issue for debate at a full council meeting.

The council has said the development is expected to create hundreds of jobs and bring an extra £15m each year into the borough. It will include an IMAX cinema, indoor golf, a climbing wall, a virtual reality zone and restaurants.

Tim Deacon, director of Turnstone Estates, said: “We have a contractual obligation to deliver no less than 542 car parking spaces as part of the proposed scheme.

“We have carefully considered the parking numbers which will be generated by the development, the seafront and the high street, particularly given that many visitors will come by public transport.

“We have balanced the need for car parking against the impact on the highway network and the environment. Our proposal is for 555 spaces, provided in a new multi-storey.

“The council’s own highway modelling predicts no significant capacity problems. In summer peak periods our surveys have shown there are plenty of surplus spaces in nearby car parks.

“Our proposals are a game changer for Southend, delivering a much needed all year round family leisure destination, which will turbo charge the local economy by £15million every year.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter