PLANS to build the first new council houses in Southend since the Nineties will be unveiled this summer, the Echo can reveal.

Officers are putting the finishing touches to a detailed investigation into how Southend Council can cut its 1,500-strong housing waiting list by building new properties on disused garages and open spaces owned by the authority.

A review of land already within the authority’s housing stock sites has identified key sites that could be redeveloped.

However, officers are tight-lipped about locations for fear of sparking campaigns to save cherished public places, although the sites will be presented to councillors this summer.

Lesley Salter, Southend councillor responsible for housing, said: “There has been large-scale investment in the council’s own housing stock over a number of years, along with the delivery of new affordable homes through partnerships with housing associations, private developers and registered social landlords.

“The council has outlined an aspiration to make best use of its own land and begin developing housing again following recent changes brought about by the Localism Act 2011.”

Former Independent group spokesman Martin Terry raised concerns last year after a cross-party group of backbench councillors called on the Tory administration to consider building on green spaces between estates, as well as revamping its rundown tower blocks.

But, until now, it was unknown the leadership had listened to the recommendation.

Labour leader Ian Gilbert would welcome new council housing, but fears the land identified could only hold a few houses.

The councillor, who represents Victoria ward, said: “If the space is underutilised, absolutely we should look at building there. But we don’t want to take every bit of green space.”

Mr Gilbert has called for the council to buy and demolish empty office blocks in Victoria Avenue and build council housing in its place.

However, James Duddridge, ToryMP for Rochford and Southend East, has spoken against local authorities acting as landlords.

He said: “I would like to see a transfer of all the stock currently held by the arm’s length management organisation, South Essex Homes, to a housing association or, even better, a number of different housing associations.”

Mr Duddridge believes private ownership gives people a stake in their community, and is trying to make it easier for council tenants to buy their homes under the “right to buy” – established by Margaret Thatcher in 1980.

Mr Duddridge, a former banker, also praised the role of private landlords in providing housing, a quarter of which is paid for by the taxpayer through housing benefit.

He said: “Councils and housing associations play an important part in providing housing for many people, but we should not forget that the private rented sector also has a significant role to play in meeting the demand for accommodation.

“Nationally, 25.5 per cent of households privately renting are on benefits.

“I have always believed that the right to buywas an outstandingly successful policy with nearly 2million homes being bought since 1980. This helped improve social mobility and gave people a sense of pride and ownership, not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood.”