Two notorious office blocks on the road into Southend could be bought by the council to kickstart a long overdue regeneration project.
Southend Council’s joint administration has put in a bid to buy the Carby and Heath tower blocks, in Victoria Avenue.
It hopes a deal can be reached to buy the blocks, but won’t rule out pursuing other options, including compulsory purchase orders, by the autumn if a deal can’t be reached.
Two other empty blocks blight the area and the council says it is time to act.
Independent Ron Woodley, leader of the council, said: “We are not an administration that is going to let this lie any longer.
“It will mean getting rid of a huge eyesore that meets people when they come into Southend.
“We’ve put in an offer and if necessary, we will step in.”
The saga of the empty blocks rumbled on for a decade under the previous Tory regime, but it did set aside £8million in its 2014/15 budget to get rid of the buildings.
Now the joint Independent, Lib Dem, and Labour administration want to get the plan moving with the cash.
If the owners of the blocks, some of which are believed to be offshore businesses, are willing to sell, then work could start in the coming months.
Once the blocks are in the authority’s control, it would work on building a mixed-use development there.
The council has not ruled out working with the buildings’ owners to redevelop the towers too.
The two other empty blocks on the site include Victoria House, which has been given planning permission to be turned into an 84-bed hotel.
That 2010 permission has been downscaled to just 36 flats from Runwood Homes, approved last November.
The firm had promised to start work in the spring but no work has been done.
The Echo understands some of the blocks have been empty for more than ten years.
In March, it was announced Southend was to benefit from £6million from the Government’s City Deal scheme, aimed at unlocking regeneration.
Some of that cash could be used to get a Victoria Avenue scheme up-and-running.
A few months later, the council announced it had successfully won £6.7million in a bid to the Government’s Local Growth Fund, to add towards regenerating Victoria Avenue.
Homes and shops on the regeneration agenda
Homes and shopping could be brought in as part of a new look Victoria Avenue, councillors have suggested.
This could mean flattening the blocks or redeveloping them to make them more attractive to investors.
Labour’s Ian Gilbert, deputy leader of the council, who also represents Victoria ward, said: “We would want a mixed-use development because I think the sight of the empty blocks is actively discouraging businesses from buying into the town. It seems the owners of the site have little interest in it.”
A number of applications on the buildings have been submitted to Southend Council, but none have got off the ground.
If plans are progressed, any redeveloped site could include affordable housing.
The authority could work with a development partner, the owners of the blocks, or go it alone – depending on how negotiations go.
Lib Dem Graham Longley, deputy leader of the authority and responsible for economic regeneration, said: “The buildings are no longer fit for purpose.
“We are keen for a regeneration project that has a number of uses.
“Unfortunately the owners of these sites have left them rot for the sake of making a bit of cash.
“We are very keen to get this project kickstarted.”
Years of inaction
Years of inaction have blighted Victoria Avenue’s tower blocks.
The Heath and Carby buildings have stood empty since the early 2000s. They were first earmarked for development in 2004, but have laid empty since.
The empty Pinnacle office block is next door and the owners claim the eyesore tower blocks are putting off investors.
Plans to demolish CarbyHouse and build a 446-home complex failed to materialise despite planning permission being granted, while Heath House was set to be converted into a paintballing centre in 2010.
Victoria House, another empty block on the road, was subject to a planning application to turn the building into an 84-bed hotel.
That application was granted in 2010 and extended three years later, but developer Runwood Homes downscaled it to 36 flats.
It said work will start in September.
The tower blocks sprung up in the Sixties and the dual carriageway in Victoria Avenue was formed soon after.
Before that, it was housing.
Historian Arthur Woodward, 73, of Bournemouth Park Road, Southend, said: “The site has gone downhill since the Seventies when businesses started moving out.
“I wouldn’t like them to become council houses because of all the trouble involved.”