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End of the line for Southend's eyesore towerblocks?
THE demolition of derelict office blocks blighting a gateway to Southend could finally move one step forward this autumn.
Southend Council wants to take planning and financial powers from the Government to kick-start the redevelopment of Victoria Avenue.
The authority hopes to gain the powers to help developers access cash to get projects moving and speed up the planning process in key areas under the Government’s City Deal scheme.
Council leader Nigel Holdcroft said: “The City Deal is specifically intended to enable the council to unlock the site in a way that would enable us to regenerate at no cost to central Government, but until we are able to finalise the deal there is nothing we can do.
“Obviously, we are continuing to do everything we can to make early progress.”
Planning and regeneration officers have been putting together a wish list of powers to claw back from Whitehall since Southend was announced as one of 20 local authorities to be included in the scheme in February.
The authority hopes to start negotiating with the Government in November.
The Echo can reveal one key request is the power to help private firms borrow public money for developments at low interest rates in a bid to make big projects more viable.
This could be done through the Public Works Loan Board, which normally lends local authorities money from the Bank of England for huge building or infrastructure projects.
Officers are also looking at ways to streamline the planning process to cut costs for developers and provide definite answers quickly. In theory, applications should take no more than two months, but, in practice, big schemes often take much longer to be signed off.
The council also hopes to speed up response times from public bodies construction firms have to work with, from the police to English Heritage.
Victoria Avenue, which is the main route into Southend, has been in decline since its Sixties heyday and at least four of the huge office blocks stand empty.
Demolition of the 14-storey former tax office Portcullis House was finished earlier this year anda carpark openedthere last month.
Runwood Homes got the green light to convert Victoria House into 36 luxury flats above a small supermarket last November, but work is yet to start.
Mr Holdcroft said the key was getting firms to work together on a comprehensive plan for the street, as one empty building blights other developments.
He said: “At present there are some developments, such as the demolition of Portcullis House.
However, myargument hasbeen that, until we can get the owners working together, any piecemeal development is at risk of being prejudiced by the state of some of the other buildings.
“Other than try to encourage the owners to engage, there is not a great deal that the council can do at present, which is why we are eager to make progress on the City Deal.
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