The mystery of the missing plans – why are we waiting?

Training ground fence

Training ground fence

THERE was guarded anticipation last month when Southend United’s official website announced that the planning application for a new stadium at Fossetts Farm had been submitted to Southend Council.

The news followed speculation among fans following the putting up of a rather spectacular fence (manned by 24-hour security) on the site of the proposed new training ground (a separate application to Rochford Council which already has planning permission) plus the painting of a new mural next to Roots Hall inviting us all to “Be Part Of It”. Capital letters as seen.

As lovely as it is to see a couple of paragraphs of basic information together with some artist’s impressions of what looks like a cruise ship with a football stadium inside it, the devil is in the detail and many were looking forward to seeing the actual plans themselves.

However, almost a month later, the plans have yet to appear on Southend Council’s website. For those not au fait with the drudgery of the planning process, I will try and sum it up without boring you to tears:

• All planning applications submitted to the council need to be validated. This is to make sure all the information has been filled in correctly, everything the council needs to determine it is there and the correct fees have been paid.

• Once an application is validated, it is given an application number and is published on Southend Council’s website, where it is accessible to the public. It is at this point which is the trigger for the mandatory 16-week consultation period, meaning people can read and comment on the application. The consultation period does not start before the validation, which is why at the moment even though Ron claims to have submitted the plans, it means absolutely nothing.

• When the consultation period is over, the application can be debated. Planning officers (non-political planning experts employed by the council) recommend approval or refusal of the plans to the planning committee, which is made up of elected councillors. It is they who have the final say. While councillors are only supposed to refuse or approve on planning grounds, in reality if there is a large groundswell of public opinion it does tend to influence them (after all, they’re hoping to get voted in next time an election takes place).

• When an application is submitted to the council, according to the Planning Portal website, providing it is complete, it should be validated within 10 days (major application).

To find out a little more, I called Southend Council’s planning department on Tuesday (April 23). The lady on the other end of the line (after speaking to her colleague) said the plans were in, but had not been validated yet.

Given the legal requirement that local authorities must validate a complete application within 10 days, it would seem that the plans are incomplete. How, we don’t know. But it seems surprising given the involvement of British Land and PowerHaus (the agent which is handling the application on behalf of the club), who are extremely experienced in overseeing major applications.

Southend Council’s development control committee meets on September 13, meaning that if the application is to be considered on that date, it should have been validated at least 16 weeks in advance, or by April 24. Now that date has been missed, there is another meeting on October 4 but the few weeks’ delay means the project almost certainly won’t be complete by the proposed December 2018 opening date.

We will continue to keep an eye on the council website for the submitted plans, and when they are finally validated, we’ll review the scheme. At the moment, we’re still waiting.