Let’s celebrate Southend on Sea – it’s a great place to be!

There’s a lot being said about the future of high streets and even more about why they are in decline etc. However, if the customer finds the supermarket or the out of town shopping centre more to their liking they will shop there. To get them back to the high street it has to offer something better and very few do- it has to reinvent itself.

So do we need more shops? Personally I think we need more shops like we need a hole in our heads! We have plenty across the town: in the town centre, in areas like Leigh, Thorpe Bay, Westcliff and Shoebury as well as along many of our main roads like the London Road, Sutton Road and Southchurch Road and in numerous smaller parades of shops. What we need is to see some rationalisation of the retail offer and some improvements to what is left in certain areas.

To keep our retail offer vibrant, and we have been very lucky so far, I tender the following, I’ve kept it simple and so should the Council!

  • Reduce parking charges in off road car parks. Lets say £1.00 for 3 hours and more car parks to be converted to pay on foot. No loss of parking spaces either. Dedicate one car park for workers- say Seaway and on Monday to Friday offer special rate permit parking, all other users pay the standard prices.
  • Revisit the High Street, it’s about 10 years since the top end was done and there are a few areas that are showing their age-namely the square cobbled bits and the street seating. I am not suggesting an expensive make over, just replace the cobbles with paving to match the existing slabs, tidy up the broken paviours that have been filled with bitumen and over the next 3 years replace the seating.
  • Regenerate the side streets off the High Street, Clifftown and Elmer have been done, now in the same style get on with Warrior Sq Road, the stub end of York Road, Queens Road and Whitegate. Keep it simple, use the SBC palette of materials and use SBC officers to oversee this work so no need for consultants.
  • London Road / Broadway, the plans were all agreed, as soon as the Football Club S106 money becomes available this must be a priority, but not via expensive consultants and contractors, use SBC officers and simplify the design using the same palette of materials as are currently in use in the town centre.
  • Create more interesting areas in the High Street, do a simple make over of Victoria Circus, use the natural slope to create an ‘amphitheatre’ effect, plant some trees and perhaps consider an large awning in the bowl of the ‘amphitheatre’ keep it simple but effective. It can always be revisited when funds are more abundant.
  • Use lighting where ever possible to create spectacular night time effects ask for lighting as part of all planning consents.
  • Consider matching the area outside the new library ‘Elmer Square’ to Victoria Circus, simple palette, clean lines, fantastic lighting and lots of trees!
  • Accept that shopping habits are changing, allow more cafés, services etc. Allow the loss of retail in agreed sectors along the major roads, indeed actively encourage it.
  • Look at a few minor improvements in the out of town centre shopping areas- repainting, de cluttering etc.

Now for some more ambitious ideas/comments.

  • To produce a vibrant shopping area that can compete in part with Bluewater, Lakeside and now Stratford, the town needs to attract some ‘better’ shops to the Town Centre. All around the town centre are run down properties, bedsits and hostels. Single mums in bedsits, drug and alcohol addicts, the homeless and those on multiple benefits do not have cash to spend in shops, therefore, when a store looks at Southend it does not come, unless it is a pound shop or similar that is.
  • To redress the balance we need to build more dwellings that are of sufficient quality to attract those with a few bob in their pockets.
  • Completely overhaul the tower blocks in the NE quadrant of the town, use the land provided when Queensway House goes to kick start this renewal, put in a multi storey car park to release Warriors at a later date. Ensure the dwelling mix is 60% or more open market.
  • Deal with Victoria Ave, restore or rebuild, I don’t really care, but get the ground floors as active spaces and the upper floors into open market housing and/or commercial use. Landscape the entire street as a whole to allow full and easy passage around the all the buildings.
  • Purchase all the empty stores to north of Queens Road and relocate those that wish to remain in business from the south side. Demolish the then emptied sector between the WHS Bridge and Elmer Road, build new open market dwellings here.
  • Do whatever is needed to get the Prudential building back into use as commercial, dwellings and / or hotel rooms and if that means selling a few square metres of the highway to them- get on with it.
  • Stop the requirement for the provision of affordable dwellings (a misnomer if ever there was one) for development in the Town Centre that has 9 or more units, take the cash instead and buy up some of the worst properties in the surrounding streets, revamp them and hand them over to SEH or another decent social landlord.
  • Offer BHS a new site over Tylers or on Tylers if Seaway is turned into a multi storey. Demolish existing BHS, create a new open space and clad the north edge with small, very small shops. Possibly do something similar with the northern corner of Clifftown from the High Street through to the station.
  • If the Council must develop the Alexander and Clarence Street car parks and frankly I have never agreed with this idea, (why get rid of the most popular car park when replacing the spaces is nigh on impossible?) then they should put a multi storey on the Clarence site, comercial below if they wish, a large car park here will help the proposed museum too, and develop out the Alexander Street car park with smaller shops and flats, but do not do it piecemeal, deal with Market Place, use the old Cotgrove building to punch through to the High Street, deal with the old mortuary buildings, the old ABC cinema etc.

Now I hear you asking, that’s all very well but who will buy the new dwellings and where will the money come from?

Southend is a lively place to live, cheaper than London, it has award winning beaches, water sports, cinemas and theatres, sunshine, fantastic parks and sports facilities, there are 4 stations within the central area and the City of London is around an hour away or less. Council tax is low, we have national chains and in our suburbs (sorry but that word does sum up the areas) and side streets we have local shops, cafés, bars and restaurants a plenty. We have good schools, low pollution and great opportunities for entrepreneurs. What we lack is good local jobs so let’s do what Southend has done for years- attract the commuter and help rather than hinder access to the stations whether it be by bus, bike, car or even foot. Put Southend on the map for the right reasons, bring in younger people and the local jobs will follow.

Market what we offer fully, by using a bike at weekends or the trains and you don’t need the car to get from Shoebury, East Beach to Leigh. Within a few miles you are in green belt with some excellent equestrian facilities, country pubs and coastal walks, we have golf courses and now we have a working airport too!

Not many towns can offer all these on the doorstep of a world city- London

I could go on, but you get the picture. So we need all the local businesses, organisations and the local media and press on board and to go out and sell Southend, we need to stop the sniping and negativity of some habitual commentators who seem to take delight in knocking back all that is achieved or aspired to. Professionally market Southend far and wide and especially in London like it has never been done before.

More dwellings equals more council tax, more prosperity equals less dependancy. Talk to Boris, we do not want to become a dumping ground but a first choice for first time buyers and young families. The Government is offering grants- the Town Centre Partnership could apply for one. Talk to business, not just local, to get sponsorship for some of the projects- after all we have the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery so why not persuade Dubai Ports or Stobarts to sponsor a project. After all where there’s a will there’s a way!

Let’s celebrate Southend on Sea – its a great place to be!


10 responses to “Let’s celebrate Southend on Sea – it’s a great place to be!

  1. There are some interesting ideas here, as well as some that I disagree with. If I can time in the next couple of days I will do a proper response to this.

  2. Agree with your comments. Before starting projects elsewhere in the town the council really need to sort out the town centre. Unfortunately it is the council which allowed entire streets to become run down bedsits around the town centre, similarly around Hamlet Court Road, and look at the consequences. Hopefully with new measures in places rogue landlords will start to have to improve accommodation and it would be nice if some properties were converted back into family homes again.

    Trees are essential to improve the town centre, create a boulevard effect, look at Leigh Broadway and the cafes are thriving and busy this is how Southend should be changing – have more restaurants and cafes in the High Street and a variety of shops which will still be open after dark – at the moment it is a ghost town and not pleasant after dark. I think it is a shame the High Street is pedestrianised but could it not be open to taxis after dark so it isn’t so intimidating. BHS is one of the ugliest buildings I have seen along with the old Barclays Bank which replaced the Old Victoria Hotel. Big changes need to happen to Southend and Anna Waite is right, more attractive properties need to be built near the town centre and the cost of parking in the side streets and town centre car parks is ridiculous.

    • C Neston
      Firstly sorry not to have responded sooner, but as you may have noticed my comments became grossly misquoted. I agree trees are important and that the High Street needs more, the problem is to find suitable locations as the centre is a fire path and the edges contain the services. However, these days it is possible to plant in very large below ground tubs to prevent roots causing damage but there has to be room for the tub in the first place.
      As for traffic in the High Street I have long supported access by police. taxis and cars for access etc after 6.00pm, you could even incorparate some parking. Probably between Pier Hill and Clifftown initially. It woud certainly encourage a different use of the High Street in the evenings. However, when I proposed it a while back George Krawiec the then Town Clerk and Mick Thwaites the then police chief refused to even consider it.
      However, now we are in differnt times and I thought we needed to open the local debate on what improvements/changes could be introduced relatively easily, as there is little money about.
      I am still firmly of that mind, but given the Echo’s headline it has become very difficult to broach the subject without a whole load of negative and personal comments, hopefully, with the local elections out of the way, more mature responses might be proferred.

  3. Pingback: Tidy the town centre by all means, but let’s have a good society, not a cleansed one « Julian's musings

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    • The views on my blog are my own and as you are fully aware I am not a Cllr. Those that have taken the time to read what I actually said have agreed with most of the points and made suggestions etc about other points, not unlike what you yourself did. The outrageous and misleading headline and ensuing article did not reflect the sentiment of my article and has damaged what could have been a sensible and informed debate.

  5. Southend Airport’s new terminal welcomed its first passengers this week (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-17190588), and easyJet flights are now just a month away. Will this make Southend an even better place to be, or a worse one?

  6. What about converting the the old `Woolworths, T.J.Hughes` site to an indoor` boutique`( specialist traders (organic/vegan/ alternative life-styles ect, as well as `craft`s products) market.
    The `Rayleigh Lanes` has a very nice mix of traders.
    Also ,I have proposed a combined water-sports, electricity generating, tidal lagoon for Southend , between Peter Pans and the Half-Way house pub.
    This would have a minimum retained water-level of 1.5 metres( I checked with the water-sports centre, for this figure!), to allow ` permanent water to be available, for year round recreational/competitive/commercial( boat-hire ect) use.
    This would attract ` quality` hoteliers(holiday flats ect),holiday-makers(long stay(not just `day-trippers`)), who would bring much more income to the town`s traders and council.
    The ever-growing problem of erosion of the towns beaches( with the costs of re-stocking and grading the profile, would largely be solved, because of the sheltered design.
    It is now ( ie. the 2007 ICCC report, is outdated and under-estimated!), clearer that sea-levels are rising at an increasing rate( for various reasons!, can elaborate more if needed!).
    Some serious estimates of 1.5 to 2 metres, within 100 years!! are being talked about.
    Of course it would not stop there, since the `natural` inclination is ,for the planet to warm up much more ( even allowing for ` mans` input!)
    Can send attachment of design by e-mail if interested.
    I have previously advised Blaine and Louise of this some time ago!

  7. Hi Roger, Creating a space that retains water 24/7 would certainly improve Southend’s attraction. I looked at it originally when the gas works development was being considered- by creating a ‘dock’ on the site for small craft etc around which buildings could be arranged but it did not find favour. Later I suggested something similar for the Dizzyland site opposite the Kursaal but again finding others with sufficient enthusiasm was difficult. Your idea too would be good, if feasible given the ramsar site etc, and does not present the problem of needing a bridge on the seafront. The creation of the lagoon aught not to be too technically difficult these days and would certainly add interest. My main concern would be the environmental situation. Happy to look at your design as good ideas need to be put forward.

  8. Re the TJ Hughes- yes, have you seen what they did with the Coopers building in Brentwood, each ‘window’ became a mini shop front for a small shop thus creating some attractive frontages and some smaller units. Something similar and equally tasteful would be good, the upstairs could be used for comuntity functions etc.

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