Southend is a town built on family businesses who track their beginnings back through several generations. To this day those businesses are still fighting for survival, in particular those that operate in and around the seafront, still relying very much on day trippers!
One thing they have in common, they passionately believe tourism is still extremely important to the future of Southend! There are some who perhaps differ in their view! and clearly there is a battle ensuing to persuade them that is the case! I won’t ‘rake-over’ the discussion re our high street but ‘safe to say’ there is an argument to bring together both the retail and tourism offer as part of the same debate?
We all have a strong desire (personally and as businesses) to see Southend grow and promote its tourism offer, in order to bring to the town more year-round visitors, thus encourage the established businesses to reinvest in high quality attractions and facilities.
We surely can agree Southend needs a clear vision and strategy to ensure ‘Tourism’ is the key driver for the local economy over the next 20 years, supporting retail to thrive yet again. There is a major concern that development plans such as ‘Southend Area Action Plan’ (SCAAP) is certainly not a vehicle for success!
It does appear our decision makers sometimes rely too heavily on so called experts and flawed data, rather than the empirical evidence available from the businesses themselves, who have worked the seafront for decades.
There are strong emotional attachments many have for Southend as a seaside resort, built up over many years! Our great town and seafront still offers affordable pleasure to many (as has done for 200 years) and is still part of our culture and heritage, many of us wish to protect!
In recent times there seems to have been a push towards the gentrification of Southend (plenty saying we need more culture-what does that mean?) moving away from the broad base appeal Southend has, as somewhere that epitomises our national identity ‘enjoying a fun day out, with the family, at the seaside’!
We hear on many occasions, and read in various documents the need to ‘change perceptions’? Presumably these purveyors of good taste feel Southend represents garish and shoddiness, evidenced by everyone
wearing kiss me-quick hats and string vests, exposed tattooed arms, whilst chomping their way through vinegar soaked fish and chips?
These lesser human beings (who actually look forward to a day at the seaside with the family) and on those fun packed days abstain from ‘lobster thermidor’ and ‘skinny chai latte’’ should not be sneered at!
This does not mean we can’t have a vibrant, creative environment with modern restaurants and music venues, theatres etc, in proximity to high quality attractions, sideshows, fun Park, beach, lagoon, cafes etc!
We have a great opportunity to have this debate and ensure our decision makers take Southend in a direction the majority want to go (it’s called democracy), avoiding mistakes that will have severe consequences for years to come! There is an appreciation that decisions have to be made across a vast number of competing demands and requirements, particularly at the moment when ‘Retail’ is taking a battering!
Most of us are not against development, but what we ask is (within the SCAAP area, resort-seafront-high Street) although the seafront is contiguous with the high street and other areas, consider its uniqueness in terms of the significance and benefits it brings to the local economy! Therefore any development needs careful consideration!
It is essential that any such development should not undermine businesses in the resort /seafront area. In the current iteration of the SCAAP, this will certainly be the case unless amended. If visitors cannot access high quality, conveniently located car parks, with easy access to seafront attractions, then this will undermine the businesses that form the basis of Southends appeal.
It is also worth mentioning the need to understand the nuances that differentiate the terms ‘Tourism’ and ‘Leisure’, which are generally misunderstood. ‘Leisure’ facilities (e.g. cinemas, sports facilities) mostly provide for the local community, ‘tourism’ facilities provide for visitors from out of town. Clearly there is some cross-over between the two, but it is important that the distinction is properly understood when considering development on or near the seafront.
Most are still very positive about the future! but I am sure decisions as to when businesses risk investment going forward, will be very much be predicated on the decisions made by the local authority!
by Mick Thwaites
Also read Philip Miller's article on 'Demise of Southend' in Oracle's October edition. See residents comments at the bottom of the article.