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!

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Carrots not Sticks!

The new MiTo, where less is certainly more, caught my eye and it set me thinking when the Alfa Romeo magazine, full of fancy photography and cars in clever settings, landed on my doormat this week.

Whilst I have always encouraged the development of policies that promote alternative fuels and low pollution vehicles I had not realised quite how far the petrol engine had come! So a few minutes on the internet revealed that Alfa are not alone in their 67mpg low emission, clean car. Other more mainstream manufacturers are now producing similar engines for vehicles bigger than a Fiat 500!

I have never believed that people will be forced from their cars onto buses or trains or that Labour’s ridiculous parking policies would ever do more than cause problems.

Sticks are not the answer, nor is reducing parking in new developments to zero in the false belief that if you do not have an off road parking space you will not have a car, nor are punitive parking charges at stations etc. nor is the anti-car rhetoric so beloved of some.

What we should be concentrating on are the carrots- free parking in council car parks for vehicles that are both tax band A and London Congestion Charge exempt, free or reduced resident on street parking permits for these cars, more and cheaper parking at stations to encourage greater use of the train, Councils leading by example through incentives to staff who opt for high mpg and low emission vehicles, perhaps even a Government tax incentive on their purchase and I am sure there are plenty of other ideas that could be developed.

Southend is already one of the cleanest towns, let’s keep it that way, let’s actually encourage people to buy cleaner, greener cars, to use the trains, to cycle more and take the bus occasionally. That way it will also be more pleasant to walk and you never know we may all be healthier too!

The Alfa MiTo Twinair Engine has won for major awards and is available from April, I quite fancy one …….

 

Drug Dealers Should Face Eviction

South Essex Homes Should evict these people if found guilty.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and South Essex Homes fully support the drugs enforcement action undertaken by Essex Police today.

Some of the addresses targeted following the execution of warrants under the Misuse of Drugs Act are Council properties managed by South Essex Homes.

Possession proceedings which could ultimately lead to eviction will be commenced against any tenants found to have been in breach of their tenancy conditions as a result of police action.

Both the Council and South Essex Homes continue to build on their positive partnership work with the police and will take rigorous action where homes have been used for illegal activities.

South Essex Homes to get powers to deal with ASB

Just taking names and addresses is not sufficient,(echo article) those that behave in an anti social manner that seriously disrupts or disturbs the other residents should be dealt with more severely, one warning then if it recurrs their tenancy should be reviewed. If underage then the parents should be held responsible. (If you are deemed to have made yourself homeless due to ASB etc the Council does not have the same obligations to rehome as it does due to no fault homelessness)

A few examples of ASB that residents have raised with me in the past-

Having dogs on an upper floor in a tower block- then letting them pee and poo in the lift or on the stairs as they are too desperate to wait until outside.

Allowing dogs to persistently foul the small communal gardens of a block of flats.

Drug dealing/taking- you can smell drugs in the communal areas of some Tower Blocks. This can be especially worrying when dealers target young mums who are vulnerable.

Throwing rubbish out of windows- this is clearly dangerous and results in the areas looking a mess. This ranges from large items of furniture to food waste and dirty nappies!

Use of an air rifle from a bedroom window. Recurrent offence.

Use of comunal areas by kids for smoking, drinking etc- has resulted in forced doors to gain access and even fires.

The above are just some of the ASB issues that SEH residents have had to put up with.

If we are to pursue the rogue private landlord (and we should) who allows their tenants to persist in ASB or their properties to be in disrepair, through selective licensing then equally firm action needs to be taken with SEH and be seen to have been taken.

Echo article

 

“Once again this year no leisure centres, arts or cultural facilities have had to be closed and we are proposing to freeze Council tax, car parking costs and many other fees and charges.” Cllr Holdcroft

Southend Council has published news of the forthcoming budget.

“Even though we were required to make slightly less savings and efficiencies this year ( than last year) the decisions we had to take weren’t any easier and this budget proved an equally onerous task.
“The economic situation across Europe has worsened in the last 12 months and you only have to switch on the news or look at a paper to realise we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet.
“We didn’t get ourselves into this financial mess but we’ve got to be responsible for doing our bit to help the country get out of it.
“Luckily this authority had begun the process of identifying efficiencies well before the current financial disaster struck and we were in a more favourable position than some others.
“But with each financial year these savings become harder and harder to achieve without impacting on front line services and we’ve still got another four years of this to get through.
“Once again this year no leisure centres, arts or cultural facilities have had to be closed and we are proposing to freeze Council tax, car parking costs and many other fees and charges.
“Around a third of the savings required of us have been achieved by our officers re-negotiating contracts and other corporate work stream initiatives and they deserve a great vote of thanks.
“I truly believe that the hard work and continuing co-operation of our staff will enable the Council to carry on meeting the financial challenges it is facing.
“Despite the difficulties we are all experiencing Southend continues to be a vibrant and diverse town where major regeneration is helping improve the lives of each and every resident.” Cllr Nigel Holdcroft.

Within the Capital Budget the Conservative Administration is finding capital for the Cliff slip in the area where the proposed museum would go,

for the Pier, our world famous landmark,                                                            and for improving primary school facilities. These capital investments will deliver improved facilities and boost local economic growth.

Despite the adverse economic conditions the Council has been able to make the efficiencies demanded by Government whilst still maintaining the full range of services it currently provides.
Once again everything possible has been done to minimise the impact of the budget on front line services.

  • Nearly £4m in efficiencies have been achieved through renegotiating existing contracts, rationalising systems and localised shared delivery.
  • To ease the burden on residents the Cabinet is recommending that the Council tax for Southend, already one of the lowest in the country, should not be increased in 2012/13.

This would be achieved by accepting George Osborne’s offer of a grant to cover the shortfall incurred by freezing the tax, which currently has financial implications for future years.

  • Existing parking charges have also been frozen across the borough in a bid to assist the local economy and boost local businesses.
  • In Adult & Community Services the re-ablement programme, which reduces the dependency of social care service users on high cost care packages, has resulted in £950,000 in savings.
  • A further £500,000 in efficiencies has been realised by utilising the local PCT’s health-related social care grant for 2012/13 on key health-related adult social care functions. These include hospital social work, the Cumberlege Intermediate Care Centre and the Southend Therapy and Recovery Team.
  • In Children & Learning £250,000 savings have been realised with the winding down of the Core Unit, a supervised accommodation project for families requiring high-level support. The Council took over the cost of running the scheme, which targeted families with at-risk children made homeless due to their behaviour, after Government funding ceased. The one family currently remaining at the unit will be re-housed and continue to receive intensive support from the Family Intervention Project.
  • A further £389,000 worth of efficiencies have been realised in Children & Learning through the redesign of existing services.
  • In Enterprise, Tourism & the Environment £175,000 of savings have been found by deleting vacant posts in the Highways section and the implementation of the Common Permit Scheme.
  • A further £170,000 worth of efficiencies have been achieved through re-structuring the waste management service.
  • In Support Services £140,000 savings have been unlocked by the introduction of Internet Protocol Telephony and £135,000 through a re-structure of the Business Improvement Team.

Aside from all these individual savings the re-negotiation of existing contracts across all four Council directorates alone has realised £3.315m in savings.
But the need to make such significant savings in order to be able to present a balanced budget will inevitably lead to further job losses at the authority.
A total of 120 posts have been identified as being at risk, of which 49 are currently vacant. Employees working in the affected areas and the trade unions have been fully briefed.
The Council’s policy of keeping vacant posts open and operating a Talent Pool system has enabled it to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to an absolute minimum.

More Affordable Homes for Southend

Nine more affordable properties have been made available to residents in Southend thanks to a joint initiative between conservative lead Southend Council and Guinness South.

The Council has invested £220,000 in Guinness South’s development at North Shoebury Road, which provides nine two-bedroomed flats for people on its Homeseekers register.

The flats are owned and managed by Guinness South but the Council will continue to have nomination rights which will enable it to give first priority to working households.

The partnership initiative is the first in the borough to set the cost of the properties at 80 per cent of market rent – helping people who cannot afford to rent a property on the open market.

Southend Council’s Executive Councillor for Adult Social Care, Health and Housing, Conservative,  Lesley Salter, said: “This is a very welcome step and we hope it will pave the way to other similar schemes. It is crucial in these difficult economic times that we do all we can to help people find much needed homes at prices they can afford to carry on paying.”

 

Housing is a major issue for many in Southend that no one in initiative can solve but this is part of a joined up approach to tackling the many and varied housing issues and a welcome step in the right direction.

 

Rogue Landlords Take Note!

 A private landlord has been fined for failing to repair his property and leaving his tenants to suffer damp, draughty and hazardous conditions for two years!

If we are ever to turn around our housing in the borough the council really must take action such as this each and every time it comes to light. It is also essential that when a resident moves from the private scetor into the council sector that the property from whence they came is inspected. This is because one of the main critria for getting  council property is overcrowding and poor conditions and if the council does follow up on this then the next private tenant may be in a similar position.  For more details on the case please see below-

Terry Frost, of Cotswold Road, Westcliff, had denied failing to comply with an Improvement Notice issued under the Housing Act 2004, but he was found guilty when he appeared at Southend Magistrates’ Court on Monday 26th September. Frost was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 costs plus a £15 victim surcharge.

Conservative  Councillor for Adult Social Care, Health and Housing, Lesley Salter, said:

“We have many good landlords in the borough and we are trying to encourage those who don’t presently meet the standards we require to manage their properties more effectively.

“We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against any landlord who shows a cavalier attitude towards their legal responsibilities.”

The court heard how Southend Council had tried repeatedly to deal with the matter informally before finally serving the Improvement Notice in December 2010. This listed a series of repairs required to bring the property up to the appropriate standard and allowed several months for the works to be completed. They included renewing defective windows, refurbishing the kitchen, improving security, work to minimise dampness and tackling a mouse infestation.

The Council was forced to prosecute after a re-inspection of the property revealed most of the repairs were still outstanding, even though the Notice period had expired. In addition to being fined Frost remains responsible for ensuring that all the works required are completed.

Council calls Cricket Festival Public Meeting

Southend Cricket Festival – Public Meeting
Southend BC and Southend Cricket Festival Task Force are holding
a public meeting in town next Wednesday at the Civic Centre in Victoria Avenue, 6.15pm.

The meeting has been called to protest against Essex County Cricket Club’s decision not to
stage the festival in Southend in 2012.

Essex CCC members, non-members, cricket lovers in general and anybody passionate about
the hosting of festival events in Southend is invited to attend.

The aim of the meeting is
to demonstrate that the people of Southend feel very strongly about Essex CCC’s
decision not to stage the festival next year, which they believe is wrong on many counts,
and to call Essex CCC to account with the intention of overturning the decision.

The decision by Essex CCC not to host the 105-year-old festival in Southend next year has caused dismay in the town.

Attendances have improved year on year and exceed those for similar events in Chelmsford and
Colchester. Around 4,800 people attended the three days of championship cricket in Southend in 2011. This
compares with an average of around 3,000 per match at Chelmsford.

The profit made by the festival from 2008 to 2011 was around £60,000 – a figure that compares
favourably with the loss made by the Colchester festival over the same period.

Fairhavens proposal for green belt development

Firstly let me say that the work of Fairhavens and support it gives to those in need is not in question, nor is it questionable that a better premises would greatly improve the facilities.

However, whether or not there should be development in the green belt is questionable. Normally in planning, certain larger developments have to prove that there are no suitable locations closer to the town centre, on brown field sites etc depending on the type of development that is being proposed.

I would therefor like to suggest an alternative location- Fossets Farm, to be precise on the site of the earlier hospital diagnostic centre proposal that had consent. This site is well located, has relatively easy access by car, great views to the North over the Roach Valley and to the south the ancient monument which is in dire need of some loving care and attention could be incorporated into the  ‘grounds’.  The access to and from Southend Hospital is fair , the Wellesley Spire and the St Luke’s extended surgery are nearby.  This is a well connected site that retains rural aspects and peacefulness through careful landscaping could be ensured.

The land is not green belt and had consent for hospital use, public transport has improved greatly over recent years to this area and could be further enhanced if demand was there.

Echo Article

Southend Pier reopens to the public

Southend Pier will re-open to the public tomorrow (Saturday 24th September) following the completion of essential repairs.

The Pier has been closed since  a contractor’s barge was forced under the structure in high winds and a heavy swell, damaging pilings and a stretch of walkway earlier this month.

But now the temporary repairs needed to make the iconic landmark accessible to residents and visitors have been finished a fantastic fun-packed weekend awaits.

A visit by the paddle-steamer Waverley tomorrow coincides with the start of a two-day busking festival which will see a host of local musicians performing over the weekend.

And to cap it all off the Pier has been granted the National Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme (VAQAS) Award for the second year running.

This earns it a prestigious place on the Enjoy England website as a quality attraction and allows it to display the organisation’s English rose on Pier literature.

The Pier will be open to the public from 8.15am tomorrow Saturday  and the train will be running to the Pier Head as usual.