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Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has outlined how the culture and the creative sector could be used to support the next phases of a reimagined and thriving town centre in a report to be discussed at cabinet on Tuesday.
The report outlines the steps taken so far to improve Southend high street and neighbouring roads, including new planters, benches, modern paving and improved wayfinding signage for visitors, alongside sustainable urban drainage systems, new street lighting and CCTV.
With the council’s purchase of the Victoria Shopping Centre, plus with the Seaway and Better Queensway projects, feedback from the commercial market has shown an increased confidence in Southend as a town to invest in.
Using funding from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), vacant town centre premises can also benefit from 0% loans to encourage the units back into life. Existing business owners can take advantage of a shop front grant scheme to help entice shoppers into their store.
To build on this success, there are further plans to build on the town’s already impressive cultural landscape and use this to boost jobs, skills, wellbeing and infrastructure delivery. This includes plans to improve the area outside The Forum and the development of an actionable town centre masterplan ‘lite’ which will guide future plans setting out the case for investment.
Creative industries are the fastest growing sector in the UK economy and with a little further support the cultural sector in Southend could help boost the local economy.
Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment, culture, tourism and planning, said: “There is national concern about what impact the pandemic and periods of restriction and closure will have on High Street businesses across the UK.
“Every council in every town across the country is looking at how to support and boost their local economy, and we needed to think differently about our approach.
“We are in the unique situation of living in a wonderful seaside town, which also benefits from an impressive offering of museums, galleries and attractions, and we realised we need to build on this to help the town overall.
“We’ve spent the past year developing Southend’s culture vision to invest in this regeneration, in collaboration with the town’s cultural sector and residents. On top of other high-profile projects already in progress near to the town centre, such as Seaway and Better Queensway, this will hopefully boost jobs and promote tourism.”
One such example of how culture can have an impact is the Creative Estuary programme, with Southend acting as a key area to help develop the Estuary as an internationally important hub for the creative and cultural industries. Estuary Festival 21 is currently underway and has attracted considerable attention from national media, artists, and visitors.
There are also plans to transform the area outside the Forum with a stage area, raised grassed seating, and a community garden, whilst on the main High Street there are plans to turn empty shops in the central area into workshops, project spaces and safe spaces for younger children as part of the creation of an arts and education ‘quarter.’
Cllr Mulroney, said: “Coming into contact with arts and culture is proven to have direct benefit on the lives of residents, and it will encourage visitors to Southend. It also has the added benefits of helping community cohesion, wellbeing and mental health, and instilling a pride in our town.
“There are a lot of ideas in this report and with the work already taking place in the High Street, it is exciting to think how far this creative approach to regeneration can take the town.”
It is also proposed to develop a new ‘Masterplan lite’ for the town centre. This will be a short, focused piece of work which will build on work already completed, such as the SCATs and Project Sunrise, which has seen improvements to paving, drainage and a consultation with residents about how to improve the high street.
The ‘Masterplan lite’ will build on this work and deliver a set of clear ambitions for the town centre, including a strong spatial and visual element. It will provide a framework for improvements in the short, medium and longer term and be used as a tool to guide future investment, funding bids and attract new investment into the area by all landowners, including the private sector, the council and other partners/stakeholders.
To find out more about what is already taking place in the town centre, and what other projects are planned, go to: www.southend.gov.uk/the-future-of-southend-high-street