Council leader Gavin Callaghan has declared Basildon has “one of the worst town centres in the country” and is need of “wholesale regeneration”.

His comments came as major plans to overhaul the town centre with 4,000 new homes and a cinema were given unanimous backing.

Basildon Council’s town centre revival committee met for the first time on Wednesday and voted to approve a new draft masterplan to present to full council next year.

The plans will include replacing the former Post Office block with flats, next to the site for the East Square development where a ten-screen cinema will be built within two years.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Gavin Callaghan, committee chairman and leader of the council, said it would aim to publish a new draft masterplan by May next year.

Mr Callaghan said committee members will follow the masterplan progress “every step of the way” with focus on more housing, improving the retail sector and access from the train station.

He said: “There are not too many parts of the country with a town centre as bad as Basildon.

“It has been allowed to fall into a serious state of disrepair and it’s unforgivable what’s been allowed to happen.

“The kind of masterplan we must avoid is a kind of flatpack regeneration where everyone else is doing it, where we put a new facade on a building and if it’s a little bit pretty it might attract more retailers. That sticking plaster approach will not work here.

“This must be a wholesale regeneration of the town centre. Basildon must look and feel different.”

Tory Anthony Hedley said whilst he would support the plans, parking in the town centre would be crucial so businesses can compete with retail parks which offer free parking.

He said: “This is something previous administrations haven’t really gripped in the town centre. Some of the businesses I have spoken to are not convinced about multi-storey car parks, one major retailer said he wouldn’t want to set up next to one. These retailers want surface car parks.

“We will be supporting anything that will support the regeneration of Basildon, but do not underestimate the difficulty that’s going to be.”

Kerry Smith, deputy council leader, said the plans must contain provisions for a new school.

He said: “With the new 384 flats having been built in Cherrydown East in the last few years, the nearby primary school, Kingswood, is having to turn children away even though they live in properties backing onto their school. They don’t have the capacity.

“I don’t want to put a fly on the ointment with these properties to support the new shops and to support a growing town, I think the plans [have] got to take into account primary school provision in the vicinity.”

The committee will meet again in the autumn to discuss the masterplan further.