A SENIOR councillor believes the success of Southend Airport will help turn the town into a popular European mini-break destination.

Derek Jarvis, Southend councillor responsible for tourism, is urging plans for a new town centre hotel to be pushed ahead, so the town can capitalise on its appeal to visitors.

He made the call as a potential site for such a hotel – the former Prudential tower block, in Elmer Approach, went up for sale.

The building, which also houses shops and the Mansion nightclub, is being offered for £7.2million and Mr Jarvis thinks it would be the idea location for a new hotel.

He said: “It is well placed for people at the university and events at the new Forum library and is near the railway stations. With more incoming flights from places such as Amsterdam and Barcelona, there are plenty of people who could be tempted by a day or two in the town.

“There are also those flying out who sometimes book a hotel near the airport because they have early flights.

Some like to break the journey and, perhaps, take in a show.

“We are promoting Southend as a destination near London for an overnight stay.”

He said figures from the Visit Essex organisation suggested tourist spending had grown more in Southend than anywhere in the county.

He added: “Over the past decade, the image of Southend as a place only for day trips has changed tremendously.

This is thanks to the many festivals and the fact we have two good theatres.”

Owner Squarestone paid £12million for the 55,000 sq ft Prudential office building at the height of the property boom in June 2007.

It successfully applied for planning permission to turn the building into a 119-room hotel. Company director Robert Sloss has since ruled out going ahead with the hotel proposals instead putting the building on the market.

Agent Dedman Gray’s sales brochure says: “There are only two branded town centre hotels operating in Southend, both of which report excellent occupancy rates. Ideal future hotel opportunity as demand increases with Southend Airport.”

John Lamb, borough councillor responsible for regeneration said he backed the idea of a new hotel in the town centre.

He explained: “It would be useful if we could get a decent hotel in the town centre. We have Premier Inn on the seafront, so would be looking at something like a three or even four-star hotel on this site.”