Updated: Jul 27, 2022
We should not allow £10m of our money to fund the Seaway project. Not because of the numerous reasons raised by councillors and Southend citizens alike over the life-time of the proposal, but because the developer themselves do not think it is financially viable nor do any other financial investors.
Yes, we have a bowling alley, cinema and restaurants already, which means the plans are replicating the facilities available. In fact the excellent Kingpins will be located on the same road.
But this is ok because this is capitalism in action.
Perhaps it would have been better for the city as a whole if the plans included something very different such an ice rink, go-ape, water park or a ballroom. And if it did I believe this concept would garner far more enthusiasm.
It was always odd that the Kursaal already had an almost identical business model to Hollywood Bowl and was indeed open at the time. Again, this is not an issue from a capitalist perspective, but no amount of spin can stop Southend scratching their heads as to why it would be good to have the same facilities.
What is even more concerning now is that the Kursaal, having had the same business-model as Hollywood Bowl, could not make it work. If we wished for evidence to indicate how Seaway might do, we could not hope for anything better than the Kursaal's failure, which has now become a rotting, derelict building and a blight on the seafront. It is only hope and vacuous political rhetoric that keeps it standing.
The parking issue was never resolved. If indeed it is the popular attraction that it is supposed to be then there ought to be 2000 parking spaces or more, yet the plan is to keep around the same number give or take some double-speak. It is already full to the brim during peak months so where are people expected to go? Southend will be a literal standstill. The council spent millions on developing the gasworks carpark to accommodate this scheme, but that was only for a hundred or so spaces.
What is deeply offensive is when entrepreneurs that risk their money build something and create jobs, are swatted away in quips by unsupportive councillors. Part of the constitution of Confelicity is not to get into personal attacks of people of parties, because we, ourselves, are sick of it. This, however, is separate to highlighting comments made at council meetings by cabinet members.
Cllr Martin Terry said "we cannot stay with a load of arcades and pubs", whilst Cllr Mulroney said "the old talk of the south building is nowhere near a Hollywood Bowl". Cllr Hyde even commented that there were "only 4 lanes in Kingpins", which is not true.
I am personally incredulous at these comments. People put their blood, sweat, money and soul working day-in, day-out, to try to make a living. If I were the owners of Kingpins I would be furious. It looks great, it has created jobs, and makes the seafront and Southend better.
To be left in the dirt like this is quite frightening. When this attitude is played out, any business in Southend is not safe as when the next out-of-towner comes in to say they are going to invest millions into the city, I would imagine Southend businesses will simply be the cannon-fodder to accommodate them.
Cllr Cowan and Cllr Terry made comments about creating an attraction all year round that would create more jobs. Firstly, the Kursaal was all-year-round. Let us not forget that even McDonald's could not make it work. Secondly, they talk about 500 jobs created. Profitable restaurants should budget no more than 10 staff in a day. Cinema's barely have any staff at all! My estimate would be around 200 jobs at best. This would be good if it weren't for the number of jobs that will be lost at the top of the high street. No councillor can predict that. And so I would like to know exactly where they got 500 jobs from.
What happens when the Odeon closes? We will have another enormous building in the city empty. If that is the case then the high street that the council so wish to save really will be in free-fall. The restaurants that thrive off of the cinema will lose significant trade and some may not make it given the high costs of rents, rates, energy and wages. When the council knocked down Warrior Square swimming how much did that affect the high street? This things do not seem to considered.
Apparently 70% occupancy is now secured, which was the level set by the council for the greenlight. Why 70%? Is that break-even? What level of profitability would that generate? What level is loss making? I would like to see evidence of this. How secure are the contracts? What happens if the cinema pull out? What are the contingencies?
Let us not forget the Seaway itself was 'sold' for £1.
This scheme is wildly out of control. Even Cllr Woodley, the councillor that signed off on the project, said "he has had enough of developer". It has, after all, almost been a decade since permissions were granted.
But logic and reason is not the point here.
The only point that matters is Southend resident's £10m. Would we rather spend it on health, education, the high street, pot holes, pavements, parks, housing and homelessness, mental health, or creating start-up business hubs? Or a bowling alley and cinema we already have?
The developers, Turnstone, after seven years have failed to attract investors because it is not viable. When a commercial operator says it is not commercially viable then those that are not commercial i.e. a council, must accept that it is not viable – not say here is more money we don’t have to keep it going!
Now we hear the cost of the development has radically increased from £50m to £70m due to inflation. It was said that the council would not put any further money in, however, what happens to the council's share? And what happens if inflation were to continue increasing? £20m in a year is quite shocking.. How much more capacity has the business plan got?
According to Cllr Terry the deal is already agreed, but given the dramatic increase in costs for the development I have my doubts as to whether the deal is right.
The vote in council was not about whether we should continue with the development nor the £10m, it was for putting a suite of legal documents together in one place. Only problem was that none of the councillors were privy to these documents and therefore did not know what they were voting for. Unfortunately, due to the voting system, despite it being 24 vs 25, it did not get referred back to Cabinet.
Somehow, the scheme marches forward.