THE demolition of a former Leigh restaurant has been halted while the owner decides on the future of the site.

The Old Vienna, in Eastwood Road, closed last year after a damning hygiene inspection and went on the market in August for almost £1million – selling the same month.

The new owner, who has not yet been revealed, indicated that the striking building would be revamped and could become an Italian restaurant.

However, an application was later lodged with Southend Council seeking permission to tear the building down – raising fears a plan for flats will follow.

Demolition work began but has now stalled while the owner decides whether to build flats or a restaurant on the site.

Mike Gray, from Dedman’s estate agents, marketed the property. He said a large number of developers had shown interest in building flats on the site before it was sold to the current owner, who will make a decision on the future of the site soon.

He said: “The owner is in a bit of a quandry about it at the moment. It was bought with a view to build a restaurant or flats. Demolition started but they realised there was a bit more to it.

“When it was first acquired they had every intention of turning into a restaurant with some residential accommodation, but at the moment all the options are being considered. That’s why the demolition hasn’t proceeded. Drawings are being looked at at the moment.”

Councillor Stephen Aylen believes the Belfairs area needed a high quality restaurant.

He said: “It is hoped new owners would bring in, through a restaurant, a much needed boost to the local economy.

“It was sad news to learn of the possible demolition of this historic building with its art deco style. Let’s just hope a restaurant will rise from the ashes, not flats. The thing is there is no parking there.

“It will be interesting to see what they do, but I’d lay paper money on it being flats.”

Former owner of the Austrian restaurant, Walter Haiser, was hit with a £60,000 fine for ignoring hygiene rules. It followed deteriorating standards at the restaurant and complaints from customers, which lead to police being called in December 2015.

After putting the once popular restaurant on the market, Mr Haiser said it was his preference to sell to someone in the restaurant and catering business so that the Old Vienna “could have a future as a popular local dining venue.”