English League One football club Southend United has scored a major breakthrough in its long-running efforts to secure a new stadium with a deal being reached that will replace proposed commercial development at the site with affordable housing.

Agreement has been reached between United; Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and Citizen Housing, a housing and regeneration focused investor that specialises in public-private partnerships; enabling the redevelopment of the club’s existing Roots Hall home for 502 new homes for rent, and the delivery of a new stadium at Fossetts Farm. The new homes replace a proposed out-of-town retail development.

In October 2018, revised plans were revealed for the Fossetts Farm multi-purpose development, which at the time was due to be anchored by a new 21,000-seat stadium. Those plans cut the amount of restaurant space at the site, while increasing the area for leisure facilities by the equivalent of about 10 tennis courts.

Along with the stadium, the Fossetts Farm site was set to include five residential buildings, a Hilton hotel, shops, restaurants, a cinema and four full sized grass football pitches. Plans were initially submitted to the council in April 2017, with feedback from a prior consultation leading to the revised proposal submitted by the Powerhaus Consultancy.

Under the new agreement, the stadium at Fossetts Farm will be enabled by around 800 homes for rent through the agreement with the Council, and potentially hundreds more homes through a separate joint venture between Citizen Housing and a third party.  There will also be other facilities such as a health centre, convenience store and a community hub at Fossetts Farm. All the housing delivered with the Council will be for rent including 30% at affordable rent levels.

The proposals have the provisional backing of Homes England in the form of a significant investment loan to finance infrastructure and fund the stadium construction on the basis that a substantial quantity of new housing will be built. It is proposed that the first phase of the new stadium will now comprise 14,000 seats.

United will seek planning permission for both developments. If planning permission is granted, Citizen Housing will facilitate the funding and construction of both sites. The Council will not be required to invest any capital in the development of either site, but the three parties said its covenant strength will enable the financing of the transactions.

The Council will not be involved in the stadium construction but a legal framework will ensure that the new stadium is delivered at Fossetts Farm before Roots Hall can close. Southend United chairman, Ron Martin, said: “We listened to the Council’s concerns, in particular, the impact of the proposed enabling retail development on the town centre.

“The collaborative approach achieved with the Council, together with our other partners, will deliver a project that I believe the people of Southend-on-Sea will be very proud of.  We are delighted for all our supporters that this agreement will unlock the delivery of Southend United’s new home, enabling the club to fulfil its long held potential.”

Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, added: “This is really very significant news for all of us. I am very pleased that despite the current difficult circumstances we have been able to move this forward. The Council has been working closely with the football club over an extended period to move this project forwards and I am pleased to see that we have got to this stage, which would not only see much needed new homes built, but also take away the threat to the town centre from the previously proposed retail element.

“We need to build more homes as a Borough, we want more affordable rented homes, we need to generate more income into the council to fund local services and we are seeing more than ever how essential these services are. We have always recognised the importance of the football club to the borough and we now have the opportunity to enable them to deliver their new stadium and secure the club’s future. So this is a win-win situation.”

Southend has played at Roots Hall since the 12,392-capacity stadium opened in 1955.

Image: Southend United