CAMPAIGNERS are battling for more low-cost homes for rent on land sold off by the NHS in Southend “below market value”.

Kate Sheehan and Mike Fieldhouse, leaders of the Save Southend NHS campaign, have teamed up with housing welfare campaigner, Colin Nickless to press their case.

The 14-acre site at Fossetts Farm, where a new NHS diagnostic and treatment centre had been planned, was sold earlier this year by the NHS to Land England for £7 million.

It is estimated up to 400 new homes could be built on that land, which campaigners say could mean it’s true market value could be in excess of £40 million.

The campaigners, who are calling themselves Fossetts for the People, believe Southend Council should step in and develop the land under a council-owned Local Housing Company scheme.

Currently about 150 other councils up and down the country have already started doing this with tens of thousands of new homes either being built or planned.

Over the last decade, house prices in Southend have shot up by about 50 per cent, meaning many families have been priced out of the housing market, the campaigners say.

They say Southend Council could use the land to relieve housing pressures and bring in extra cash.

This would help to tackle a shortage of quality, affordable private rental properties and the long council waiting list.

Kate Sheehan, a nurse in Southend, said: “One thing we know from our NHS campaign is that there is a chronic shortage of trained medical staff in the town. A major factor hampering the recruitment of staff is the incredibly high property prices and rents in the area.

“Nurses have seen their pay capped and even frozen for years now and find it incredibly hard to find decent accommodation that they can afford in Southend. Staff don’t get the London weighting here that our colleagues in Basildon benefit from.”

Mr Fieldhouse added: “We understand that Southend Council set up a Local Housing Company in 2016 but has failed to progress any developments.

“We’d like to know why land that belonged to the public has been sold off by the NHS for a fraction of the price it will be worth once houses are built on it.

“This is a great opportunity for Southend Council to take positive steps towards alleviating the housing crisis we face in this town by building homes to let at truly affordable rents to people that are most in need in Southend.

“It will also create an income stream to plough back in to other local services. The alternative will be that a private developer moves in, creating hefty profits for itself and its shareholders by building ‘executive’ homes for London commuters.”

A Southend Council spokesman said: “This public sector land was bought and is owned by Homes England, a Government body whose role is to accelerate the delivery of housing across England.

“We will work with them as they bring forward plans for the future of the site.”