City centre strategy outlines plans for Southend

Southend High Street is set to be transformed into a leafy playground under revolutionary plans to revive the city centre.

New trees, walkways, cycle paths and play areas for children all form part of the vision for High Street and Chichester Road, as council bosses plot new ways to entice visitors to Southend.

Other suggestions being considered include creating offices, new homes and leisure facilities at the Royals Shopping Centre, alongside a range of shops.

The Royals has officially been taken over by The Regis Group, which also owns the Roslin Hotel, and the plans would need the firm’s approval and support.

The Kursaal, which is under private ownership, could meanwhile be transformed into a centre for learning, arts and culture for all ages.

The ideas have been outlined in a city centre strategy and investment plan, which saw hundreds of traders and residents share suggestions for revitalising Southend.

Ian Gilbert, councillor responsible for economic development, regeneration and housing, said: “We need a revolutionary approach to revitalise the High Street and give it a much-needed injection of investment, community and culture.

“We hear all the time that the High Street isn’t what it used to be.

“It isn’t, because people’s shopping habits have fundamentally changed.

“But Southend is so much more than just shopping – we have a wide and wonderful cultural offering, and many entrepreneurs and businesses that want to stay local, want to invest in their local community, want engagement from local residents.”

The scheme will be reliant on securing government levelling-up funding, with a £12.5 million bid submitted by Southend Council earlier this year.

The council-owned Victoria Centre sits at the heart of plans for Victoria Gateway, which it hopes to use for a range of different health and other services together with a mix of retail and cultural uses.

A blood taking centre is now well established in the centre and it has already hosted a number of art events.

The council says it will use any additional levelling up funding it gets to “create new leisure, performance and creative spaces” there.

A team dubbed “The Engineroom”, a cross-sector partnership group, will help to attract investors to the various schemes.

Cllr Gilbert added: “I hope by having a plan that is flexible and allows for additional opportunities and growth, we have a strategy that can adapt as the city centre grows and blossoms.
“With the input of local people early on in the process and by having the Engineroom lead those conversations and encourage private business to get on board, I am confident we will have a city centre to be proud of.”

Martin Richardson, owner of the Happidrome amusement arcade on the seafront said:

“Something desperately needs to be done.

“People come to the High Street and visit the seafront and vice versa. They go hand-in-hand.

“Anything we do has got to be good and has to take account of the changing world we are in.”

Mr Richardson added: “The Kursaal could be a cultural centre but the rates are £500,000 a year. We need to cut rents and rates.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter