THIS picture shows the demolition of a former Southend cinema, empty for more than eight years, is almost complete.

The New Empire Theatre, in Alexandra Street, was bought by an unidentified company in Hong Kong for £750,000 last summer.

The company wants to transform the town centre site into flats, shops and a community centre, after plans to refurbish the building were abandoned.

Southend historian Ian Yearsley said it’s always sad when buildings of historical importance are torn down, but he isn’t surprised the cinema is being redeveloped.

He added: “I remember it as the ABC cinema, I remember queueing around the block for Grease in 1978.

“Obviously it’s always sad to see a building of historical importance go because it signifies the changing fabric of the town.

“With buildings that are community-focused there is always a sense of loss, but I’m not surprised.

“The cinema and theatre industries are in decline, and the building had fallen into disrepair.”

Built in 1896, the building had become rundown and in 2015, its roof collapsed, destroying part of the first floor auditorium.

In 2012, Southend Vineyard submitted a planning application to the council to use the building for religious services, but pulled out in January 2013 after it was revealed they would need to spend in excess of £2million to renovate the building.

Jonathan Garston is the councillor for Milton Ward, a member of the development control committee who also visited the the cinema as a child.

He said: “It’s going back a few years now, but yes, I can remember going there, queueing up to watch the films, I have a very fond memory of it.

“Over recent years it had become a bit of an eyesore.

“There is no doubt that we have to move forward with the site and developing it is going to help the area.”

The building has been the target of vandals and antisocial behaviour while it has stood vacant. In July 2015, arsonists set the roof on fire which then spread to the rest of the building.

In August last year, extra security was hired to prevent trespassers from breaking into the premises after concerns were raised when youngsters were seen on the roof of the building.