10 years ago, the regeneration of Southend Central Area began with projects like Civic Beach, The Forum and more recently Victoria Avenue among others. Government assisted funding was obtained for many of these projects. This has encouraged private sector investment.
Thinking then was that regeneration would be linked to retail development. At that time challenges to the town centre like at Fossett’s Farm were emerging.
Ten years on retail is no longer the driver and high streets across the country are in crisis.
Southend has benefits that others would envy, the seaside,5 million plus visitors, south facing aspect, conservation area, two rail links into London and Docklands. Access to an airport, mixed offering of schooling etc. Vacant sites around the town centre in council ownership. Residential areas with lower costs than nearby.
Nationally thinking on regenerating town centres has changed to draw together a wide mixed range of residential and other uses.
In December 2018 the government published a report by Sir John Timpson (a shop on every High Street).
Current thinking is to see the High Street as part of the whole town centre. To implement it the government announced £635 mill of funding.
INSPIRATIONAL LEADERSHIP The council and community to own this vision. Leadership must be accountable for delivery and failure.
The need for a VISION for the town centre in 2025 Involving people, more than once in three years. People need to easily know what they want, what it will be like without long reports, A good place to live work and play for all-residents and non-residents.
Continue to be reinstated as a predominantly residential area using brownfield sites. Timpson points out that in solving the problem of oversupply of retail you can solve housing challenges. At its heart could be a dynamic High Street with both national and local retail, doctors, dentist, eating and drinking and leisure, Existing leisure would be part of this. There would be places to eat and meet mixed with entertainment. Spaces in the form of tree lined boulevards and squares would be an integral part of this town centre Residents would be able to walk to the shops, stations and other public transport. Some street might be opened to shared traffic.
A true mix, of housing, affordable, shared ownership, private and luxury.
Work could start on schemes like Warrior Square, Seaway and Clarence Street.
These might bring localism with local funders and developers thus encouraging the development of sites such as ABC cinema.
Improved design quality is needed - Southend deserves better than the average it is being offered.
COMMUNITY involvement in a shared vision particularly young people. Empowering local people, residents, organisations businesses, institutions and property owners.
PARKING It has been shown that parking is a significant factor when people decide where to shop or go. Local Authorities should ensure that charges are working to support accessibility, local business, encouraging footfall and attracting people. Parking could be changed without uneconomic underground car parks or taking up street level frontages. Paid for by increased development income, land values and council tax. Business rates would be innovative to seek to bring in local retailers.
HOUSEKEEPING Everyone can help eliminate graffiti and litter. One idea is to have High Street perfect day. It could prove the
opportunity to test ideas e.g. opening up part of the High Street to Traffic. Temporary occupancy of empty shops by local businesses. The already successful street markets.
EMPTY SHOPS Local Authorities should use their initiative to encourage landlords and tenants to think innovatively. Business rates would be innovative to seek to bring in temporary occupancy by local retailers to test viability.
PROCUREMENT This takes too long. Southend should have more plan B’s for sites in their ownership so that if a developer hasn’t or can’t deliver within two years of an option then the game moves on. Southend is a proven success on which to seek support from the new funding.
Listen to people- talk to them- break down the sense of secrecy, lack of direction and conflict
Attract local businesses, funders and developers to deliver small incremental developments as catalysts.
Think Southend town centre –Build housing for all to create demand for a thriving High Street. Encourage development of vacant private sites. Encourage landlords and tenants to think innovatively to utilise empty shops - not easy. Look at how Business Rates might allow people to try and test short term if their business will work. Review Parking restrictions to ensure that they are not driving people away. Look at obtaining government financial support ahead of the competition.
Download The High Street Report By Sir John Timpson.
This report summarises the findings and recommendations of the High Streets Expert Panel (Published 20 December 2018).