TORY councillors agreed to sell 25 acres of land near Southend Airport to an aviation company, only to discover the firm can no longer afford to buy it.

Aircraft seat manufacturer Ipeco expressed an interest in the land, off Aviation Way, when airport expansion plans were under discussion.

At a recent cabinet meeting, councillors agreed they were prepared to sell it to Ipeco, which employs about 400 people on its site in Aviation Way.

Now any sale has been stopped by the economic downturn and the crisis in aviation industry caused by rising fuel prices.

Ipeco supplies aircraft seats to leading companies including Boeing.

Steve Johnson, the firm’s chief executive, was surprised to hear the council had voted on the matter, as the company was not in a position to buy the land at the moment.

He explained: “There aren’t any plans for Ipeco’s expansion or relocation.

“This is the first I’ve heard about the sale of the land and I’ve had no approach from Southend Council.”

Mr Johnson added in the past Ipeco had held talks with both Southend and Rochford councils about airport expansion.

He said: “All we have said to the councils is if they did ever think about selling land, we might be interested.

“But right now we aren’t in a position to pay for it.

“We’ve actually reduced the number of staff we employ. We’ve made about 30 redundancies this year.”

John Lamb, deputy council leader, said councillors had agreed to the sale to help boost Ipeco’s business, which would, in turn, boost the economy of the town.

But added: “If we don’t have a reason to sell it, then we won’t.

“Only if we have the right approaches for it to be sold, would we do so. Otherwise we’ll hold on to it.”