SOUTHEND desperately needs a new shopping district, according to planners behind the Blues’ maligned Fossetts Farm project.

Experts at Savills, which has been hired by Southend United to fight its corner over the controversial scheme, claim the town centre is currently “over trading”.

The club’s plans to build a new out-of-town retail park at Fossetts, alongside a 22,000-seater stadium, have been cast into disarray after councillors demanded to see more evidence that the development would not harm town centre shops.

But, in a report for Southend Council planners, a spokesman for Savills said the case for a new retail park was overwhelming.

He added: “There is a significant and immediate need for additional retail floorspace within Southend.

“In light of the level of expenditure and minimal level of trade diversion from the town centre, it cannot be a credible case that the proposal will have a significant adverse impact (on the town centre).”

The Fossetts plans appeared before the council’s development control committee earlier this month.

The Blues needed approval to renew the planning permission they first secured in 2008, and also asked the authority to scrap an agreed £6million contribution to protect the town centre from the new retail park.

But councillors rejected both requests, deferring a decision until March so more evidence could be produced.

Savills’ claims are based on a trading survey conducted by the council last year, in which it claims Southend’s retailers sell £9,200 worth of goods per square metre every year.

It points out that is much higher than the benchmark level of £6,500 prescribed by the authority.

But GL Hearn, a consultant hired by the council to assess Savills’ conclusions, said there was no evidence of such “over trading” in reality.

A spokesman said: “We would have anticipated that the higher level of trading identified would have been corroborated with on the ground evidence, such as how busy the town centre actually is and demand from new retailers to gain a presence in the town centre.

“The health check of Southend does not indicate any such over trading stress which would, in our view, suggest there is a need to plan to relieve pressure by making new floorspace.”