Date: April 2019
In the last issue of Oracle, it was asked “please help save Southend High Street”. I maintain that the High Street does not need saving, but it does need changing, and fast.
The councillors of old back in the 1960’s started the rot by doing away with the superb Victoria Circus at the very top of the High Street. It’s now a characterless concrete space. Now, travelling down from there into the High Street itself we find we could be anywhere, in any town in the country. All the same brand name shops, moribund bank branches and dreadful, overrated, overpriced coffee shops. God give me strength! What we have is a concrete tunnel, devoid of trees or greenery that’s like an ice rink of those street tiles in the wet and if they don’t get you the uneven paving is sure to sooner or later. It’s a grey place devoid of character.
I said it needs changing so how about encouraging small boutique businesses of all types instead of the run-of-the-mill usual and ubiquitous shopping outlets. How about extending the Thursday market day to other days and invite more stallholders in by offering reduced rates for all and what about turning the large empty units into a superb food hall with a top-of-the-range butcher, a wonderful deli, selling the finest Spanish ham, Italian salami world cheeses and the very best baker (who, at long last for Southend, can make a decent baguette) and a tip-top fish monger all selling goods of top restaurant quality. A chocolatier and a superb greengrocer and an unbeatable florist. They should all have to attain and maintain very high standards. All this at reasonable rents and very low rates. And how about offering stallholders in the market zero rents for the first two months after Christmas when footfall is low. And free parking for two to three hours. There could be antique shops and small artisan outlets. It’s endless.
Just like the saying “if you build it the people will come”.
Perhaps the good Burgers of the town should visit the Bond Street Centre in Chelmsford to see the turnaround they have achieved with the more upmarket shops and non-branded restaurants and pubs they have there now.
Certainly, a change of attitude is needed by local politicians. It’s no good them promising great things at election time and asking for our views on the High Street and then doing absolutely nothing. This leads to a total disconnect between them, local civil servants and the public and if it carries on will lead to the end of the High Street as feared.
Come on! We are made of better things in this town. Let’s get going and turn the whole area into something we could all love and enjoy! Good street lighting and no beggars would ensure it not becoming a no-go area after dark as is the case now. Volunteer, highly visible street wardens would help as well especially after dark and make the place a lot less intimidating.
What a transformation! And what an example to other failing High Streets up and down the country. Because our High Street IS failing. But get it right and what a legacy!