A promise that a developer would have just ‘one last chance’ to redevelop Southend's Seaway car park could be broken after councillors were warned Basildon and Chelmsford will pull business away from the town if the scheme doesn’t go ahead.

The controversial £50million plan to redevelop the car park on Lucy Road has been under fierce scrutiny since it was announced more than five years ago.

But when developer Turnstone Estates failed to submit a planning application before the end of 2018 - breaking the conditions of their contract with the council - they were given what council leader Ian Gilbert called “one last chance” to obtain planning permission by January 17, 2020.

For a second time, Turnstone has failed to meet this condition after the council’s development committee chose to defer the decision over parking.

Under the plans, spaces will drop from the current 661 to just 555.

On Tuesday, council leaders will be asked to decide on whether Turnstone will get another ‘last chance’ and officers have warned that if they don’t Festival Leisure in Basildon and Bond Street, in Chelmsford, will draw business away from the town.

However, the major difference between the developments is the parking as Festival Leisure has the capacity for up to 1,700 visitors and Bond Street has the capacity for 825.

Council documents state: “It is crucially important that Southend builds and maintains a reputation for supporting investment and delivering economic growth to match the population growth and that it does not get left behind by neighbouring areas.

“For example, the Bond Street development has been relatively recently delivered in Chelmsford and Basildon is on-site with its town centre cinema anchored scheme.

“Both of these will undoubtedly draw business away from Southend generally and specifically from the town centre unless something is done.”

The council’s deputy leader Ron Woodley previously said the contract could not be cancelled due to an appeal by Turnstone to the planning inspectorate but documents have now revealed the appeal was rejected because “certain prescribed documentation had not been sent”.

The documents add: “The lack of appeal means the circumstances to trigger an automatic extension to this end date have not arisen.

“Accordingly, the right for either party to terminate the agreement has therefore come into effect.”

Critics of the scheme, including Adventure Island boss Philip Miller urged the council against extending the agreement, warning the limited parking in the Turnstone plan will cause significant harm to seafront businesses.

In the council’s report, these concerns have been largely dismissed, with officers claiming the development will “not replicate” seafront businesses and many other town centre businesses believe it will be “beneficial, even essential for the town centre to grow and thrive.”

The council has also maintained that the development “delivers sufficient parking”, despite serious concerns being raised by councillors on the development committee.

Seaway Leisure will be a ‘game changer’ for Southend

The developer behind the Seaway Leisure complex has claimed their plans will be a “game changer” for Southend, creating hundreds of jobs and boost the economy by £15million a year.

Developer Turnstone Estates has reiterated its commitment to build the new leisure complex on the Seaway car park on Lucy Road.

The company’s plan will bring an 11-screen Empire Cinema complex with Southend’s first IMAX screen, a Travelodge hotel, Hollywood Bowl, as well as a range of other leisure and restaurant businesses.

The plan hinges on a meeting set to be held on Tuesday which will see councillors decide whether to extend a contract with the company to allow them to build on the car park.

Tim Deacon, director at Turnstone Estates, said: “We remain committed as ever to the delivery of Seaway Leisure which will be a game changer for Southend.

“Since the disappointing deferral last month, we have received more support than ever. The people of Southend truly want and deserve this important regeneration project.

“Councils up and down the country are looking at innovative ways of supporting regeneration projects and we believe there is a financial solution which could be a win-win for everyone. The Council could be many hundreds of thousands of pounds better off and the scheme delivery will be accelerated.

“We welcome the opportunity to progress negotiations with Southend Council during this critical next stage of the project.”

Mr Deacon’s comments were backed by Justin Ribbons, CEO of Empire Cinemas.

Mr Ribbons said: “Seaway Leisure remains one of our top priorities and we remain committed to opening a fantastic multiplex including IMAX in Southend.

“The planning committee’s decision to defer in January was very disappointing, particularly given the obvious need for the proposed scheme.

“Empire Cinemas considers the proposed 555 space car park as perfectly adequate and we are pleased Turnstone have shown their determination to deliver Seaway Leisure by seeking an appeal.”

If council leaders choose to extend the contract with Turnstone, the extension will still need to secure an extension in a vote at full council and it will then be down to the development committee to decide whether to grant planning permission.

If it was given the go-ahead, council documents say the construction phase will create 94 full time direct and indirect jobs and once it opens the will be an extra 323.

It is also estimated that the increase in expenditure across accommodation, leisure, food and beverage, cinema and family entertainment would mean an annual turnover of between £15.4million and £16.8million.