Southend Central Area Action Plan
3. The Key Challenges to be Addressed
3.1 Southend performs a variety of functions and is defined by its diverse urban character. The Central Area Masterplan published in March 2008 explains that a good way of identifying opportunities and constraints is to conceptualise the way people understand the place as a series of different experiences – ranging from participation in core functions and activities such as the High Street retail experience, to the finer grain elements such as the built heritage. The following key challenges for the Central Area have been identified from the findings that emerged in the baseline research for the Central Area Masterplan and the stakeholder and other consultation events that were held.
Southend as a Place:
3.2 Urban Design- analysis of land use patterns show that the Central Area has a strong zonal geography with offices and civic uses to the north, retail use focused on the High Street and leisure uses on the seafront. A finer grain mix of uses is developing to the west of the High Street in relation to educational, cultural and food, drink and retail units. There is a definite opportunity to encourage a greater mix of uses across the centre to enhance accessibility between the different ‘zones’ and to increase the physical breadth of the town centre, particularly in relation to the creation of a new retail circuit to the south-east of the High Street.
3.3 In relation to the structure and form of the Central Area, there is an opportunity to promote a more permeable street layout between Victoria Avenue and London Road, and to define a more distinctive urban grain to the east of the High Street focusing on opportunities at Warrior Square, Tylers Avenue and Seaway car park.
3.4 There is an opportunity to develop taller buildings in key areas in order to create landmarks and enhance Southend’s architectural quality, as well as to take advantage of the excellent waterfront and estuary views. It is important that tall buildings do not compromise the special character of the historic environment including the Conservation Areas.
3.5 Public realm – there are opportunities to shape the experience of the Central Area. Public realm [natural and man-made], open space, landscape and seascape play a major role and the challenge is to use these assets to knit the town together.
3.6 Southend as a retail centre: There are clear opportunities to improve the performance of Southend as a major retail centre.
3.7 The focus for retail activity should continue to be the established town centre; however there is an opportunity to achieve critical mass by delivering a strong retail circuit and new units to the east of the High Street focusing on the Tylers Avenue site. This would add a fresh major component to the retail offer. In order to reinforce the primacy of the High Street it is important that The Victoria and The Royals continue to improve as anchors. The refurbishment of The Victoria is now complete but there are a significant number of vacant units.
3.8 The Clifftown area and other secondary retail locations have a significant potential to play a part in the provision of a wider breadth of retailing uses in the central area.
3.9 The vitality of the retail experience is essential and as such the option that is chosen for the submission version of this plan should also incorporate significant and linked public realm improvements, a greater mix of complementary uses and a user-friendly atmosphere. This will help to differentiate the town centre form other centres in the region and create a unique, bespoke and, in places, speciality offer which would enhance the appeal of the town centre to the catchment population, as well as to visitors from further afield.
3.10 The need for additional bulky food outlets is acknowledged because of the expanded role for the central area and the accompanying planned increases in new homes and jobs. Such outlets have a key role as part of a wider expanded retailing offer in the central part of Southend though contrary views are acknowledged.
3.11 Southend as a place to work: the challenge is to improve Southend’s performance as an employment centre. Opportunities to achieve this are underpinned by the overarching objective to maximise sustainability, inclusivity and town centre viability by providing a mix of employment generating uses in the central area.
3.12 Whilst retail and servicing will have a strong role to play, office employment should also be promoted as it supports a large number of workers from the borough and south Essex who also bring additional spending power to the centre.
3.13 The office stock on the western side of Victoria Avenue has a negative impact on the market. Renaissance Southend Limited in conjunction with the Council is preparing a Supplementary Planning Document for this area that promotes the redevelopment and refurbishment of office blocks to take on a new role with a mix of uses including workspace, residential and civic uses.
3.14 The central area also has the potential for an agglomeration of higher and further education related uses including residential accommodation, ancillary entertainment facilities, and alternative workspace uses in this area. Allied to this there is scope here and elsewhere to replace/relocate some of the reservoir of office space in an alternative, more accessible location in the town centre.
3.15 There is an opportunity to promote the connection between the expanding educational sector and cultural industries. Part of the challenge is to encourage the provision of Small and Medium Enterprise space, workshops, research and development and other forms of innovative employment generating uses as well as Grade ‘A’ modern attractive office floorspace.
3.16 Southend as a place to live: the provision of the targeted numbers of new residential accommodation will contribute to the enhancement of the vitality of the central area. The challenge is to make provision for and deliver a mix of unit types and sizes in order to create mixed and balanced communities. In addition to affordable and family units, the central area should also accommodate significant student dwellings.
3.17 In order to create a balanced central area community the challenge is to also provide the community and social infrastructure required to support residents, students and workers who are located in, and use, the central area.
3.18 Southend as a visitor centre: the town has an established visitor economy. However the challenge is to develop new markets for visitors. The regeneration of the core town centre, particularly the retail sector and improvements and enhancements to the urban environment would assist in generating different types of visitor. The objective is to achieve a balance between big-name High Street retailing and finer grain specialist outlets and specialist shops alongside a vibrant food and drink economy in areas such as Clifftown.
3.19 There is scope to make links with the University of Essex and South Essex College initiatives, and to take advantage of attractive settings such as Cliff Gardens which would be appropriate for cultural activity. It is recognised that larger scale leisure is likely to be market-led and would be a longer term aspiration for this Plan rather than a pre-requisite for realising this vision.
3.20 The Council’s ambition for the Pier, which is a grade 2 listed structure, is to see it developed along cultural and maritime themes for the benefit of visitors and residents.
3.21 Southend as an educational centre: the educational sector will play a major role in realising the potential of Southend in a sub-regional context. Both the University of Essex and South Essex College have a strong presence in the town centre and there is a strong case to support the development of a cultural and educational hub in the Elmer Square area, adding to the critical mass of uses north of the railway station.
3.22 An important consideration is the long term success and sustainability of the University and College. In order to support the long term growth of the education sector, provision should be made for additional teaching facilities, space for graduate enterprises, ancillary student facilities, for example a students union and student/key worker accommodation.
3.23 There is an opportunity to make provision for one or two core educational locations, and a dispersal of ancillary and associated functions across the central area. As part of the implementation of the Area Action Plan it will be important to ensure that education provision meets the needs of the community.
3.24 Southend as a cultural hub: Southend has a major opportunity to realise the town’s role as a cultural hub. The potential success of the cultural hub is likely to relate to a spectrum of interventions ranging from formal to informal, and public to private projects. These should include:
- Institutional projects [e.g. educational provision on the Elmer Square site];
- Public cultural provision [e.g. a new library and a new cultural centre];
- Private cultural provision such as theatres and music venues, and
- A general step change in the urban experience incorporating a vibrant mix of town centre activities.
3.24 The cultural status of Southend will be a key area of growth in the context of the town’s role at the heart of the Thames Gateway South Essex sub-region. There is scope for a digital exploration centre in the town centre, possibly as part of the overall mix of uses on St John’s.
3.26 Southend as a hub for the natural and built heritage: Southend is defined by an attractive natural and built heritage and there are a number of opportunities and constraints relating to this theme.
3.27 Public space is vital to the experience of the central area for residents, visitors and workers. However, the quality of its provision is variable and there is an absence of a strategic plan to direct the linking of spaces into a coherent network that enhances urban life. There is also a substantial under-provision of green space and poor coordination with the Local Biodiversity Action Plan. The challenge is to develop a comprehensive vision for this work that both supports the enhancement of urban spaces including the High Street and the seafront, and develops their value as contributors to the quality of the Central Area as a whole based on the town’s Green Grid approach.
3.28 This Plan will seek to preserve and celebrate heritage. Our Conservation Areas and historic buildings are reference points for many within the community and help build up a ‘mental map’ of what is special about our town. Through a combination of strategies, policies and actions, the Borough Council and its partners will build upon this reserve of heritage and identity to help bring about the renaissance of Southend-on-Sea. In relation to tall buildings, there is scope to make provision for this type of development in appropriate central locations to create new iconic buildings and spaces.
3.29 The natural and built heritage of Southend is a major asset in the context of developing a cultural and educational hub. Southend is also set aside from other resort towns with a fantastic seaside setting with memorable views over the Thames Estuary. In addition, the foreshore is a special natural environment which is reflected in the nature conservation designations for the area. As far as possible, this Plan will seek to minimise the impact on the foreshore. However, there is scope to make better economic use of the Estuary, possibly through the provision of further moorings. The creation of new habitats might be an appropriate technique for mitigating against any impacts associated with development in the seafront area. It is imperative that the Plan achieves a proper balance between the economic imperatives of the core vision to diversify the attraction of Southend whilst also balancing this against responsibilities for the conservation of internationally important habitats.
3.30 Southend as a civic hub: the town centre will continue to play a role as a civic hub. There is an opportunity to consolidate and improve civic functions on the eastern side of Victoria Avenue and to also create space for introducing additional development. There is scope for refurbishment of the existing building stock, but the location of civic uses seems appropriate in terms of the scale and boulevard character of Victoria Avenue. It is considered that the transformation of the western side of Victoria Avenue alongside landscape enhancements will provide a high quality setting for civic functions.
3.31 Southend as a transport interchange: the central area of Southend is a major transport interchange and the quality and sustainability of connections is the cornerstone of this Plan.
3.32 Vehicular movement will be enhanced through a package of improvements including rationalisation of the one-way system, facilitation of a modal shift towards more sustainable public transport modes and relocation of parking through a comprehensive parking strategy.
3.33 Pedestrian connections will be enhanced through upgrades in the public realm, improved activity along key walking routes (particularly movement to and from the High Street via Chichester Road, and projects to improve key junctions and barriers to movement. There is a specific focus on better movement across Victoria Square junction and routes across Queensway and to the seafront.
3.34 The car parking approach is to provide parking at key locations at the edge of the core town centre and along public transport corridors. This will enable sustainable movement patterns and will also allow the selective redevelopment and reprovision of surface car parking sites which do not represent the best use of scarce central land. Tylers Avenue, Warrior Square and Seaway car parks have a key role in the reinvigoration of Chichester Road and the central area as a whole.
3.35 In terms of public transport, this Plan should seek to maintain the existing approach as far as possible. The Plan recognises that some limited access to the High Street should be retained or improved as an option to overcome issues of safety and vitality associated with the evening and night time economy. In addition some re-working of the transport routes on Chichester Road to accommodate the redevelopment of adjacent sites would be required. The Plan also makes provision for the South Essex Rapid Transit (SERT) in linking into the sub-regional movement network. It is acknowledged that public funding for major infrastructure projects in the short to medium term is unlikely due to the current economic situation. Nevertheless the Southend Central Area Action Plan is seeking to affect change and influence investment and development decisions over a 15-20 year period. It is important, therefore, that all key infrastructure requirements for the area are considered as part of the plan preparation process.
3.36 There is also scope for the rebranding of public transport with a view to transforming the perception of buses. The franchise for C2C, which has the potential to become an ‘urban metro’ service, is up for renewal in 2011. The outcome of the current DfT consultation will be incorporated into the submission version of this Plan.
Summary of opportunities and constraints
- Victoria Avenue: Existing stock to the west is a constraint on the office market. Opportunity to provide alternative and mix of uses and refurbishment. Boulevard treatment and landscaping opportunities to fulfil gateway potential.
- Queensway: major barrier to movement. Opportunity to revitalise this route with landscaping and greenery. Possibility of improved crossings at key junctions.
- Station enhancements: Southend Victoria and Southend Central underperform as gateways to the town and current and planned improvements will be important.
- Cultural and educational hub: major opportunity to facilitate growth in these linked sectors building on the strength of SEC and UoE developments. Elmer Square (the site of Farringdon car park) has a pivotal role to play.
- Clifftown Quarter:this area has momentum as a focus for independent retailing, restaurants, bars, offices and workshops. There are a number of infill opportunities.
- Opportunities for improved pedestrian links: opportunities for better links at Victoria Circus and from Seaway to the seafront.
- Retail anchors: the performance of Southend as a retail destination is constrained by its anchors – The Royals and The Victoria Centre which both present significant opportunities for further improvement.
- Conservation Areas: the Conservation Areas have a strong role in defining the unique and attractive character of Southend.
- Central Seafront: opportunities for improving the leisure and tourism offer building on the enhancements to the public realm currently underway:
- Future opportunities: a number of sites could come forward for refurbishment, expansion or development. Some of these are subject to existing consents and others are more aspirational.
- The High Street:the length of the High Street constrains the retail performance of Southend. There are opportunities to enhance the quality and performance of the High Street.
- Widening the town centre:there is scope for the area to the east of Chichester Road to take on a new urban character. The surface car park sites (Warrior Square, Tylers Avenue and Seaway) have significant development potential in this respect. There is an opportunity to provide enhanced connectivity between the town centre and seafront via the Tylers Avenue and Seaway sites. Clearly there is a need for a comprehensive parking and movement strategy given the importance of these sites for parking, and Chichester Road as a servicing/public transport corridor.
- Severance caused by the railway: the LTS line causes major severance, restricting north-south movement.
- Western Esplanade: the Esplanade is a busy traffic route with generous parking provision which hinders free pedestrian movement. There are opportunities to reduce the impact of the road and parking as a barrier.
- The Cliffs: the formal character and tranquillity of the gardens is an asset but the gardens are constrained by landslips. Opportunities exist to rectify the slips, enhance the landscape and introduce appropriate new uses.
- Marine Parade/ Eastern Esplanade: the eastern side of the seafront has potential for landscape improvements and more active uses, drawing on the ‘city beach’ concept. This area has a different character to the Western Esplanade.
- Pier: the Pier is a major landmark for Southend – there is a major opportunity to reinvent the pier as a destination.
- Foreshore designations: nature conservation designations (SSI, RAMSAR, and SPA) restrict development on the foreshore.
- Gateway Neighbourhoods:there are a number of areas adjacent to the core town centres which are facing particular challenges including economic decline, degraded urban fabric and dereliction. These ‘transitional’ or ‘Gateway’ areas, whilst requiring regeneration in their own right for the existing residential and business community, also provide an opportunity to play a key in meeting the housing and community objectives for the town centre
- Connectivity: opportunities exist to create better integration across the town centre, and between the town centre and both the seafront and neighbouring residential areas
- Leisure and tourist accommodation: there is potential to develop hotel and guest house provision as the town’s economy and leisure and tourism offer develops