Viewings for the first London-style apartment tower in Southend are already booked out – despite people not being able to move in for eight months.

Weston Homes’ £8million conversion of the former Lloyds head office, Essex House, in Southchurch Avenue, was launched on Thursday night, with flats priced up to £225,000.

With a series of office blocks in line to be converted into swish apartments, the development, christened Highbanks, will be the first London-style swanky apartment block when it opens next summer.

Mike Gray, from Dedman Gray, who will be selling the properties, said: “This will be the start of a new market in Southend.

“This is providing a new offer to the residential market in Southend, and first time buyers can take advantage of high quality apartments similar to those you would expect to see in London.

“Prior to launch, there has been an incredible number of enquiries with the first weekly viewing appointments all been booked up ahead of launch.”

Highbanks will the first tower block to be inhabited, with plans to covert Victoria House, Baryta House, The Pinnacle, and Heath House and Carby House in Victoria Avenue also in the pipeline, signalling a new change in swanky apartment living in Southend.

Viewings over the weekend for Highbanks were all fully booked for the apartments, which will be one and two bed homes, starting from £159,000.

Weston Homes bought the building for £3million in 2014, just under a year after Lloyds went bust with the loss of 800 jobs.

And it has spent £5million converting the former office block into 75 apartments, spread over 11 floors, with the upper tiers offering views across Southend.

There will be penthouses on the top floor, but these are not on sale yet.

Next door to the block, there is a five-storey building being constructed, featuring 22 apartments, including three bed homes.

The developer, which is also building an apartments block in Sutton Road, used legislation brought in by the Coalition, which relaxes planning rules on old office block conversions into apartments.

Independent Ron Woodley, leader of Southend Council, was at Highbanks to see it launched.

He said: “This is good to see for the town as it means that homes are coming forward and it is one of many former office blocks that are being converted into homes.

“It’s important to see this building developed and not lay empty for years.

“We didn’t want to see it left alone for 10 years like the buildings in Victoria Avenue.”

Dedman Gray had initially tried to find another business to inhabit the building, but failed.

Gymnastics star Max Whitlock, fresh from winning a gold medal at the World Championships last month, opened the new development.


The view from the evening... from the 10th floor of Highbanks

No affordable homes at Highbanks

The new development will do nothing to help hundreds of people waiting for a council home in Southend, a councillor says.

Because Weston Homes used a relaxation in planning laws which permits conversion of office blocks, it did not have to offer up affordable homes, which developers usually having to offer 30 per cent of its homes as cheaper units.

But Highbanks is located in the most deprived ward in the borough, Kursaal, and there are 1,699 people currently waiting for social housing at Southend Council.

Anne Jones, Labour councillor for Kursaal, said: “If the flats are filled with people paying council tax then the local authority will get revenue but we are mindful of having a long council house waiting list.

“We are concerned about the lack of affordable homes provided, we are playing catch-up for an underinvestment in social housing the last 30 years in Southend.

“Kursaal’s population has grown in the last few years by almost 25 per cent, but there is nothing here that will improve the infrastructure – we only have one doctor surgery – or the proximity of people living close to each other.”

Former Lloyds staff want to move in

Essex House staff that were made redundant when Lloyds moved its call centre to Birmingham have enquired about living in the place where they lost their job.

Lloyds announced it was closing its operations at the Southchurch Road tower block in May 2013, with 865 jobs lost.

The building closed its doors at the end of the year, but was bought by Takeley based developers Weston Homes in December 2014.

Nancy Rutherford, sales director for the eastern region for the firm, said: “Some members of staff that used to work here have got in touch to see what we’ve done with the building, and have asked how much prices are.

“We have had a lot of local people interested in the building.

“We were attracted to the location as it is close to both railway lines and we were attracted to the challenge of converting such an important looking building in Southend.”


Fears over the modernisation of Chalkwell seafront



CGI of the Chalkwell flats (in the middle)

Fears have been raised about the loss of Chalkwell seafront’s character after plans were put forward for an apartment block.

Shoebury-based Elmore Homes want to demolish three Edwardian homes, numbers 30 to 32 in the Leas, and turn them into a swish, modern block of nine apartments, including a penthouse, with some of the homes likely to go on the market for around £750,000.

But residents have criticised the plans, claiming it will block out seafront views, while planning officers on Southend Council claim the five-storey block is an overdevelopment of Chalkwell seafront.

But the developers hit back, claiming they are not trying to cram as many flats in as possible, and say their proposal is an example of changing face of the borough’s seafront.

Lucy Courtenay, chairman of the Chalkwell Residents Association, said: “We support the council’s recommendation as we think it is too high and not in keeping with the character of the seafront.

“The site is a bit run down and I’m sure something will be built there, but I’d like something more sympathetic.”

In the summer, Southend Council agreed stricter rules of new seafront development, with the authority admitting large developments in Chalkwell and Westcliff, such as Overcliff Apartments and Nirvana, have blighted the area.

That is the main reason the authority’s planning team are recommending the project for refusal.

Located only a few doors down from the looming 11-storey Nirvana block of flats, the Shoebury-based firm said it had did not want to cram as many homes in as possible on the site.

Nick Elmore, the company’s director, who also built Chapman Sands further down the seafront, said: “We believe Southend is going in a different direction, and this is a product of the changing face of the seafront with a more modern approach.

“We are getting more run off from London now, and that’s why we are pushing for luxury flats there, and not just numbers, like the Nirvana building.

“We bought them in a state of disrepair and across the three properties there were already six flats and one large house, so I don’t think we’re going above and beyond with our plans.”

The proposal, which is smaller than a previously rejected idea to put an eight-storey building of 21 flats on the site, will have 19 parking spaces for residents, with some in a basement area.

It is sandwiched between two five storey developments, Admiral Place, and another block of flats on the corner of Crowstone Avenue.

Jane Hendry, from the Chalkwell Residents Association, said: “I’m not against development as such, but they should pay attention to the views on the seafront and the loss of that amenity we’re entitled too.”

Ten people have objected to the plans, which will be decided next Wednesday.