TALL apartment blocks may be the solution to Southend’s housing crisis, according to the councillor tasked with tackling the problem.

Anna Waite, councillor rsponsible for housing at Southend Council, believes building upwards is the only effective way to provide more affordable homes.

The Tory politician spoke out after the Echo discovered housing benefits worth more than £1million a week is being handed out to keep cash-strapped residents in privately-rented properties. Mrs Waite said: “We have nowhere to go but up.

“We are squeezed between Rochford’s green belt and the estuary There is nowhere else to build.

“Historically we have not built enough one and two-bedroom homes for young couples and small families, and I believe a few, well-placed apartment blocks are the way to go.

“I’m not talking about creating a 1960s landscape because these blocks are clearly not for everywhere, but I do think modern, well-designed buildings are attractive places to live.”

According to figures obtained by the Echo from the Department for Work and Pensions, there are 16,620 people in Southend currently receiving housing benefit.

On average, it costs the taxpayer about £72 a week to keep people in council homes.

But that figure spirals to about £110 when the Government is forced to subsidise rents for private houses and flats.

There are 9,720 benefits claimants living in private homes in Southend, compared to 6,890 in council properties. That puts the town well ahead of neighbouring Basildon and Chelmsford, where the number renting from landlords is three times smaller than those in social housing.

Mrs Waite advocated sites in the town centre, on the seafront and derelict areas such as the former South East Essex College base in Carnarvon Road as possible locations for the new blocks.

But Graham Longley, leader of the authority’s Liberal Democrats, has called for restraint.

He said: “There are tower blocks and then there are tower blocks.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with something which encourages a mixture of people, such as a four or five-storey building with shops below it.

“But when you get to ten, 12 or 15 storeys, that is too much. We do not want to do anything which could create a ghetto.”