A DEVELOPER says it will start work in the spring on a project to bring a disused Southend office block back into use.

Runwood Homes was given planning permission in 2010 to convert the six-storey Victoria House, in Victoria Avenue, Southend, into an 84-room hotel.

Two years later it was given permission to turn it into a supermarket with 36 flats above, but so far neither scheme has moved forward.

With Southend Council issuing ultimatum to the Hadleigh-based company to get moving on the site, which has stood empty for five years, it has promised to start work in the spring.

Councillors agreed to allow it a further two years revamp the eyesore last Wednesday.

Runwood has since said it plans to go ahead with the supermarket and flats proposal.

One of its directors, Tom Sanders, said: “Our full intention is to do the approved housing scheme, not the hotel.

“We are tweaking some of the designs now, but we have full intentions to develop that in the early part of next year – spring at the latest.

“It’s only going to be a sixmonth project, once we get on site.”

Runwood specialises in homes for older people, but was given permission for the hotel conversion after a series of failed bids to convert the Sixties office block into a care home.

Mr Sanders revealed the company had dropped the hotel plan because it had been unable to find a buyer. It now felt flats were the best hope of the building back into use.

He added: “The market has been very volatile. When we went for the hotel, we were assured that there was a market for it, but there was no demand.

“We did apply and got approval, but there was no market for it.

“Full planning applications are not cheap, so we extended it as a small fee, but our plan is to develop it as apartments.”

Councillors had hoped a new hotel would help provide muchneeded visitor accommodation in the town.

However, they are also mindful of the need to see Victoria House and three other empty office blocks on the main route to the town centre brought back into some kind of use, to help regenerate the area.

Mr Sanders said: “Our intention was never to leave it empty for five years.

“As soon as someone builds something, it starts the ball rolling and we hope other developments in the road will follow.”