HISTORIANS have called for Second World War air raid shelters to be preserved after it emerged they had been blocked off by rubble.

A system of underground bomb shelters lies up to 25ft beneath the former Ekco factory site, in Priory Crescent, Southend.

The area has been earmarked for up to 250 homes, a new Fair Havens adult hospice and an office block.

But no legal protection exists for the 75-year-old tunnels, built to shelter the electronics firm’s 3,000 staff from German bombers, when the site is redeveloped.

While artefacts found in the shelters have been put into storage, calls have been made to preserve the entire complex and even turn it into a tourist attraction.

Marion Pearce, of Hamlet Road, Westcliff, who has had five local history books published, said: “It’s shocking. This is part of our history.

“I really do think they should be saved.

“They show the fears of the community at the time.”

Peter Brown, of Sutton Road, Southend, visited the tunnels when researching his book about the firm, Ekco Sounds.

He said: “They would have made an excellent museum.

“Had they been left in-situ, they would have been a tourist pull for Southend – a 1930s building with authentic air raid shelters.”

Southend Council commissioned Essex County Council’s archaeological unit to survey the shelters before insurer Aviva began demolishing the former Prittlebrook Industrial Estate buildings above in 2008.

All artefacts except the doors, which were considered to be too heavy, were removed and put into storage and will be displayed in the new £40million Museum of the Thames Estuary, planned for Southend Cliff Gardens.

Workmen then blocked off the shelters with rubble.

Southend councillors have called for an emergency meeting on the issue before the site is redeveloped.

Brian Ayling, Independent councillor for St Lukes, whose mother and two aunts worked at the site during the war, said: “These shelters, which I believe are a part of a significant underground complex, should be listed and preserved.

“They could even become a major tourist attraction.

“I have asked the council to identify the structures and to stop any further destruction of them.”

Peter Geraghty, the council’s head of planning and transport, said: “There is no protection in planning law for these shelters.

“The shelters would only have had some degree of protection if they had been listed by English Heritage or had been located within a conservation area – and these shelters were neither.”