Councillors were anxious to back plans for a Blues stadium, hotel, shops and flats at Fossetts Farm, despite planning officers' concerns about the possible impact on the town centre.

Some opposition councillors wanted the decision deferred, while others raised fears about a new shopping centre being detrimental to town centre trade, but in the end 13 of the 16 committee members voted in favour of the plans.

None voted against but three Lib Dems abstained.

Denis Garne (Lab, Kursaal) said he was worried about the amount of affordable housing proposed and the fact none of it would be at the Fossetts Farm site, but at Roots Hall instead.

He was also worried the 127 flats proposed for Fossetts Farm was too many.

Mr Garne said: "What would be the impact if the housing market was to collapse? I am also concerned with the possible conflict between 10,000 football fans arriving for a match in a short space of time and shoppers using the planned shopping mall."

Alan Crystall (Lib Dem, Leigh) said he was disappointed planning officers had not given a clear recommendation on the development and suggested the decision be deferred.

He said: "We need a great deal more information before we can make a totally valid judgment on this application and we clearly do not have this at the moment.

"We need more time and the officers should also have time for further discussion with the football club."

However, Dr Marimuthu Velmurugan (Alliance Southend, Westborough) gave a passionate defence of the scheme, saying: "It is important we support this as something which will put Southend on the world map."

His proposal to approve the application was supported by committee chairman Allan Cole (Con, Shoebury).

Dr Velmurugan said as well as a suitable travel plan being put in place, the council should also require an undertaking from town centre traders wanting to open another branch at Fossetts Farm that they must stay in the town centre for at least five years.

Kevin Robinson (Lab, St Luke's) said: "Southend needs a successful football club and I know my views supporting this scheme are backed by the vast majority of the people who live in my ward."

Roots Hall scheme rejected

Southend United's plans for the redevelopment of Roots Hall were just too much for the site, councillors decided.

Members of the development control committee felt the 402 flats at the site would cause overcrowding and parking problems, and that the superstore needed to be scaled back.

Committee chairman Allan Cole (Con, Shoebury) said: "I am concerned what we are being asked to approve here is not acceptable on the Roots Hall site and is more than just overdevelopment."

Gwen Horrigan (Con, West Leigh) was also worried about the plans for the affordable housing among the flats.

She said: "In this day and age, it is just not acceptable to put all the affordable housing which is proposed in one block.

"We have a brilliant example of affordable housing at the gasworks site, where you cannot tell if people own their own property or if they are on benefits."

However, Denis Garne (Lab, Kursaal) said he was far happier with the proposals for Roots Hall than for those at Fossetts Farm.

He said: "I feel that flats would be acceptable here and the scheme would provide a gateway into the town at the junction of Victoria Avenue and Fairfax Drive."

Mike Royston (Lab, St Luke's) said he felt it would be better to defer the application for further discussions rather than refuse it.

Interim technical services director John Young said if the plan was refused, there was still room for further discussion with Southend United with the aim of a compromise.

He said: "They have representatives here who I am sure have taken on board everything which members have had to say on the application."

Members refused the plans on the grounds of overdevelopment and the potential impact on the town centre by 11 votes to three, with two councillors abstaining.

Fans delighted

Southend United fans sang with delight after the decision they had all dreamed of was announced: The stadium had been approved.

Shrimpers supporters, packing the public gallery and gathering outside to hear the verdict over a loudspeaker, erupted in cheers and applause when the good news emerged.

Lifelong fan Andrew Brown, of Hutton, said: "We started the applause. We were just so pleased that the decision went our way.

"It's not all about football these days - it's about hospitality too - and the new stadium will give us the platform to go on."

A grinning Peter Beecroft, of Benfleet, echoed Mr Brown's sentiments.

He said: "Football seems to be about money these days and this give us the opportunity to make more. It's what we wanted to hear and that's why we came down here."

Club chairman Ron Martin's arrival outside the chambers after the decision was met by loud cheers from fans, who soon started to sing out his name.

They waved their flags and banners and several fans were quick to praise the impassioned performance of Dr Marimuthu Velmurugan, whose speech stressed the importance of the new stadium for the football club and town.

David Heath, of Basildon, said: "Every Southend fan agreed with what he said in there. That's why everyone started clapping and I understand that spread to inside as well. It was a very memorable moment and maybe we should have a statue of him at the new ground to say thank you!"

But it was not all good news for Blues, as their plans to build flats and a superstore at Roots Hall were turned down.

Howard Studd, from Chelmsford, believed there was still a long way to go in the club's bid to build a new ground.

He said: "I don't think everything is home and dry just yet.

"There were a lot of conditions that went with the stadium verdict and whether or not they can be sorted out I'm not sure."