Since the Echo reported on the revised Southend United Football Club stadium plans last week, several people have asked us how those might affect our campaign. There also appears to be some confusion between the land we’re campaigning about and the proposed football stadium on the land opposite that site, so we thought some clarification might be helpful.
As the map at the top of this page shows, the two sites are separate. Originally, they were both part of farmland (Fossett’s Farm) and have been approved for built development for some time. The part of the land closer to B&Q was sold to the NHS to build a treatment and diagnostic centre, and the western part of the land (the Sutton Road side) to the football club for the new stadium development. Our campaign relates solely to the NHS part of the land.
The NHS decided, for financial reasons, not to go ahead with the treatment and diagnostic centre and that land remains in government hands, ready to be sold off by Homes England, a government body, for housing. The Fossett’s for The People Campaign is fighting for that publicly-owned land to be transferred to Southend Council and used exclusively for desperately-needed social housing for local people. We do not feel that it is right for Homes England to sell off this land to whichever private developer offers the most money, to develop it as Executive Homes. We know that it is their intention to include the bare legal minimum of so-called affordable housing (which is not actually affordable for most people in Southend). Our campaign’s aim, put simply, is to keep this public land in public hands.
Having spoken with Homes England last week one of our concerns is that they will not even guarantee 30% affordable homes within the plans for the ex-NHS land – that 30% is only 40 homes to start with and the definition of ‘affordable’ is very loose. We want as many genuinely affordable homes as possible on this land and our stated aim remains for it to be transferred to Southend Council to be used exclusively for social housing
As many local people will know, the SUFC stadium development was first approved several years ago, but the club owner has made many changes over those years – each one requiring revised planning approval. The latest plans have yet to be formally submitted but, according to the Echo report, pre-application agreement has been reached between the football club, Southend Council and Citizen Housing and that could lead to the stadium finally being built. Please be clear that the organisers of this campaign have no special or inside knowledge about the proposals or agreement: neither SUFC nor the council has to involve us and the following information is based on what we understand from the local press, social media, and our own informal sources.
We have discussed among ourselves the possibility that the football club’s plans will benefit our cause and decided it really is too soon to tell. We believe there are still some doubts that SUFC has the wherewithal to bring them to fruition and, in any case, we need to look carefully at the timescale as well as the number of houses proposed.
The SUFC plans are indicated as including 1300 homes for rent: about 800 at the new stadium site and about 500 at Roots Hall.
The legal minimum of 30% of those would be for ‘affordable rent’ (ie up to 80% of the private-rented market rate). That’s 390 homes altogether, but there’s no indication whether they’d be all on one of the sites or split between the two.
It could be that Citizen Housing will propose all of those 390 homes to be at Roots Hall, meaning the new stadium site would have none priced at ‘affordable’ rent.
Or, better from our point of view, all 390 to be at the new stadium site meaning that almost half of that site would be something like the ‘right sort’ of housing, although that would mean no ‘affordable’ housing at Roots Hall. Or they could be split between the two sites, giving a small amount of ‘affordable’ rented housing at each.
All rents going to the council, as reported, is something we very much approve of – but we want everyone to be aware that what is defined as ‘affordable’ rent isn’t the same as ‘social’ rent and is often well beyond the financial reach of most of the people who need these homes.
Timescale is a big factor because, as noted, SUFC haven’t yet formally submitted the plans for the stadium site and will be subject to the usual public consultation and objection process. With ‘our’ Fossett’s site, Homes England are actively seeking development partners and have already submitted an Outline Application. A decision to grant or refuse that application will be made within the next few months, theoretically as soon as July although quite that soon is unlikely with the COVID 19 restrictions on meetings. So, unless SUFC is able to move these plans forward very quickly and get them approved and work underway, building at ‘our’ Fossett’s site will have started (and could even be complete) before the first pickaxe is wielded at the new stadium site.
While we give a guarded welcome to the reported SUFC proposals and the council’s reaction to them, and we’re hopeful that reaction will also be beneficial to our aims by increasing the amount of genuinely affordable housing available, we’re not going to get too confident about them actually happening.
We continue to challenge the current Homes England application for this ex-NHS public land but will keep our strategy for the campaign under review, particularly if further news on the stadium plans emerges that may benefit us. We have no intention to challenge the reported stadium plans in any way: the football club is a privately-owned commercial concern and what the owner does with his property, subject to council approval, and the money that may accrue from it are matters for him.
Current COVID-19 restrictions on meetings and public events are inevitably slowing things down, but you can keep up to date with our latest news on our Facebook page and on this website (in particular on the ‘What’s next’ page). If you’d like to get actively involved, thank you and please email us at email@example.com – we have a very small committee of organisers and an army of you, the campaign supporters, and we need to mobilise.