Friday, 14 September 2018

Southend Town Centre - the challenges, strengths and possible solutions (part 1)

With hardly a day passing without more negative news on the Country’s High Streets whether a s a result of the financial problems or closure of another famous chain or the continued rise of the internet it is unsurprising that concerns as to the future of Southend High Street continue to grow.

I suppose the easiest part of the debate is to identify the challenges the High Street faces. For me the main issues include:

1. The national decline of High Street shopping due to the challenge of the internet;
2. Southend’s geographical location literally “at the end of the line” which means that its shopping catchment does not extend significantly to all directions but mostly to the west where other competition lurks;
3. The linked issues with accessibility by car from outside the Borough boundaries;
4. The elongated length of the High Street itself with anchors by way of the shopping centres at both ends making any consolidation difficult;
5. The limited sideways growth caused in part by the length of the High Street itself;
6. The large size of many of the units on the High Street;
7. The high commercial rents and Business Rates;
8. The high cost of parking and the recent changes which have made the Council owned carparks and on street parking less user friendly;
9. The dependence of Southend Council’s budget on car park income;
10. The pedestrian layout of the High Street and poor finish of much of the work previously carried out, and the ramifications on the perception of safety – particularly at night;
11. The limited nature of the retail offer available – particularly in areas covering electrical goods, furniture, houseware etc. etc.
12. The large number of students in the High Street which some older shoppers can find intimidating.

I would stress that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list but provides a range of challenges which it is difficult to overcome.
By the same token the Town has obvious strengths:

1. Its seaside location;
2. Its strong leisure offer which tempts £6/7M visitors to the Town each year;
3. Its vastly improved range of hotels and other overnight accommodation;
4. Its wide and inviting range of restaurants; bars and clubs;
5. Its location at the “end of the line” giving it a potential catchment who face the same challenges getting out of the Town as visitors face getting in!
6. The University and College in the Town centre with the resulting footfall generated;
7. Its non-road transport infrastructure including 7 main line stations within the Borough on 2 lines and a growing airport;
8. The continuing presence of a significant number of potential entrepreneurs who are such a feature of South Essex life.

It is interesting that some factors have a potentially positive and negative effect.

Once again this is not intended to be an exclusive list. However it demonstrates why Southend has more reasons to feel positive than many other Town centres across the country.

So given a magic wand and influence over the Council, local commercial property owners, local entrepreneurs and Southend residents Well the Holdcroft masterplan will follow next week…..

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