Southend Council in bid to buy up Victoria Road tower blocks

Graham Longely, with one of the Victoria Avenue towers in the background

Graham Longely, with one of the Victoria Avenue towers in the background

First published in News Exclusive by

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.

Southend Standard:

 

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.”

Southend Standard:

 

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.”

Comments (10)

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9:07am Thu 31 Jul 14

shoess3 says...

It's Victoria Avenue not Road!
It's Victoria Avenue not Road! shoess3
  • Score: 12

9:38am Thu 31 Jul 14

Bester says...

shoess3 wrote:
It's Victoria Avenue not Road!
Go easy on them. It's not like it's a local paper. Oh, wait....
[quote][p][bold]shoess3[/bold] wrote: It's Victoria Avenue not Road![/p][/quote]Go easy on them. It's not like it's a local paper. Oh, wait.... Bester
  • Score: 13

9:55am Thu 31 Jul 14

CHRISTMAS CAROL says...

Yes the time has passed for the council to act and what about the state of the propertt at the junction with Fairfax drive , the Pizza properties should have compulsary purchase orders on them all, they are holding out for more money from Sainsburys and in the meantime the place is an eyesore
Yes the time has passed for the council to act and what about the state of the propertt at the junction with Fairfax drive , the Pizza properties should have compulsary purchase orders on them all, they are holding out for more money from Sainsburys and in the meantime the place is an eyesore CHRISTMAS CAROL
  • Score: 7

9:57am Thu 31 Jul 14

Now listen for I have something to say says...

Make them available as council flats, so that when the blocks Quantock Malvern etc are flattened, those living there could move into these two buildings - job done
Make them available as council flats, so that when the blocks Quantock Malvern etc are flattened, those living there could move into these two buildings - job done Now listen for I have something to say
  • Score: 6

10:30am Thu 31 Jul 14

southendcivilservant says...

I work in Victoria Avenue, and have seen the decline of this road happen over the last 20 years or so. I'd love to see the council take action with these eyesores, not least because they're a dreadful welcome sign and advert for visitors and would-be residents to see. As long as they're developed tastefully and not done on the cheap then I'd be in agreement with what the council do - as long as they do SOMETHING!

While you're at it, can you also knock down the horrible area in and around the Foresters pub down on the foreshore, as it lets the rest of the area down and looks seedy.
I work in Victoria Avenue, and have seen the decline of this road happen over the last 20 years or so. I'd love to see the council take action with these eyesores, not least because they're a dreadful welcome sign and advert for visitors and would-be residents to see. As long as they're developed tastefully and not done on the cheap then I'd be in agreement with what the council do - as long as they do SOMETHING! While you're at it, can you also knock down the horrible area in and around the Foresters pub down on the foreshore, as it lets the rest of the area down and looks seedy. southendcivilservant
  • Score: 16

11:44am Thu 31 Jul 14

Howard Cháse says...

Time for someone to play The Laindon Hotel Gambit methinks....
Time for someone to play The Laindon Hotel Gambit methinks.... Howard Cháse
  • Score: 0

12:31pm Thu 31 Jul 14

Bosniavet says...

Historian Arthur Woodward is quoted as saying:-
“I wouldn’t like them to become council houses because of all the trouble involved.”
Perhaps he can elaborate on this statement, is he really saying that only those living in social housing cause trouble, whilst those who rent prvately (often with housing benefit payments) don't?
Some years ago SBC vetoed plans for some of the blocks to become a care home &/or student housing no doubt because they didn't want them as neighbours. Now they are suggesting shops as well as housing - have not been down the High Street or along London Road recently & seen the number of empty shops we have already? Housing is needed, but we need the existing housing stock to be occupied - many places are empty either because the developers cannot sell them or due to speculation on the part of those who have inherited family property.
The best idea is to see if the blocks can be renovated into flats for those on the council waiting list, or else flatten them & build suitable housing in their place - however, do we really expect the councillors to allow social housing to be so near their seat of power, I mean the public might get to see them or even enter the Civic Centre....
Historian Arthur Woodward is quoted as saying:- “I wouldn’t like them to become council houses because of all the trouble involved.” Perhaps he can elaborate on this statement, is he really saying that only those living in social housing cause trouble, whilst those who rent prvately (often with housing benefit payments) don't? Some years ago SBC vetoed plans for some of the blocks to become a care home &/or student housing no doubt because they didn't want them as neighbours. Now they are suggesting shops as well as housing - have not been down the High Street or along London Road recently & seen the number of empty shops we have already? Housing is needed, but we need the existing housing stock to be occupied - many places are empty either because the developers cannot sell them or due to speculation on the part of those who have inherited family property. The best idea is to see if the blocks can be renovated into flats for those on the council waiting list, or else flatten them & build suitable housing in their place - however, do we really expect the councillors to allow social housing to be so near their seat of power, I mean the public might get to see them or even enter the Civic Centre.... Bosniavet
  • Score: 5

4:04pm Thu 31 Jul 14

burghcastle says...

The land that these buildings are on must be worthless, Otherwise they would have been knocked down by now and the land used for some other project.
The land that these buildings are on must be worthless, Otherwise they would have been knocked down by now and the land used for some other project. burghcastle
  • Score: 0

8:10pm Thu 31 Jul 14

Howard Cháse says...

burghcastle wrote:
The land that these buildings are on must be worthless, Otherwise they would have been knocked down by now and the land used for some other project.
They would rather buy up and build on greenbelt/parkland/o
ther previously unbuilt on land to avoid the costs of demolition and clearance.

Greed always wins
[quote][p][bold]burghcastle[/bold] wrote: The land that these buildings are on must be worthless, Otherwise they would have been knocked down by now and the land used for some other project.[/p][/quote]They would rather buy up and build on greenbelt/parkland/o ther previously unbuilt on land to avoid the costs of demolition and clearance. Greed always wins Howard Cháse
  • Score: 0

2:04am Fri 1 Aug 14

Mike Smith says...

It is really disgraceful that these office blocks have been left derelict for so long. Let's just push the Council to make a decision and move onto the next stage, whether that be converting the blocks into homes, or demolishing them and rebuilding something that the town needs, or whatever else seems like a good plan.

We should make Victoria Avenue an area that we can all feel proud of. At the moment the run down blocks give a very bad impression of Southend to any visitors to our town.
It is really disgraceful that these office blocks have been left derelict for so long. Let's just push the Council to make a decision and move onto the next stage, whether that be converting the blocks into homes, or demolishing them and rebuilding something that the town needs, or whatever else seems like a good plan. We should make Victoria Avenue an area that we can all feel proud of. At the moment the run down blocks give a very bad impression of Southend to any visitors to our town. Mike Smith
  • Score: 1

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