ANGRY residents have accused Southend Council of deliberately letting an area deteriorate so it can buy up houses on the cheap.

Herbert Grove in Southend lies at the centre of the ambitious multi-million pound St John’s Quarter scheme unveiled by Renaissance Southend.

Announced three years ago, the plan involves creating a new shopping area, town square and a boulevard leading to the seafront, with both Tylers Avenue and Seaway car parks incorporated with new shops and flats.

Part of the plan was for the 70 homes in Herbert Grove to make way, but the Herbert Grove Residents’ Group was set up to fight the proposals.

Group secretary Steve Tomlin said: “The council is promoting the fact it buys up derelict properties and is doing them up to be used by families, but we have a derelict house here which has been left in a state for five years.

“When I questioned why they won’t do this one, which they already own, they said it was because of the limited time before redevelopment starts.

“But St John’s Quarter hasn’t been agreed. It hasn’t the funding.

“It seems to me the council are trying to run down the area to drive down prices so they can buy the houses cheaper, rather than compulsorily purchase them. Everybody is up in arms.”

The council already owns the old Rossi ice cream factory and two other houses in the road.

Anna Waite, cabinet member for housing, said: “It’s not true we are driving down the area. I am looking to get as many houses back into use as possible. We are not into blighting an area.”

However, in an e-mail to Mr Tomlin, seen by the Echo, Stuart Burrell, the council’s Empty Homes Officer, said several housing associations had been approached to lease the property, but due to renovation costs and the “limited time before the redevelopment commences” no agreement was reached.

Mr Tomlin says this shows the council is pressing ahead with the plan.

He added: “The consultation was a spoof. They’ve already made their minds up. We’re all just trying to get on with our lives, but this is hanging over us. The plans are so bad it will ruin shopping, not enhance it.”

In an official response from the council Alan Richards, group manager for asset management, said: “Obviously the council does not want to see the property remain empty for any length of time.

“But in order to ensure it can obtain vacant possession of the property we need to be careful not to grant any tenancy that may become secure, which would give the occupant various rights.

“This has limited the council’s options on who we can allow into the property. We are, however, in discussions with an organisation which is interested in taking a lease of the property for residential use.”