The issue of how best to develop and regenerate a town centre is a thorny one with many complexities that need to be considered in order to get to the bottom of what needs doing. I have to confess my ignorance on many of the issues around and implications to do with the ever changing plans concerning my home town (Southend) centre, despite carefully following developments in recent years.
There are many aspects of this interest, which I have followed since my youth, referred to in my earlier blogs. While I should steer away from subjects where I cannot offer a definitive and authoritative view, sometimes the subject is too important to ignore. There have been changes in recent years as a part of a regeneration agenda and funding to go with it but it is still very much work in progress. We still have empty buildings along Victoria Avenue, the High Street area still suffers from a lack of quality shops, the Seaway car park re-development has been riddled with controversy and it is still unclear (to me anyway) what is going to happen, what is going to happen in the area of cliff’s slippage, and issues over parking stopping plans for Adventure Island expansion, and of course the Pier (the main iconic landmark of the town – still).
But here I wanted to address the matter of re-developing the Queensway Estate, something that is more than on the cards and could include the demolishing of the four residential town blocks and associated buildings, in particular the old community centre, now taken over by the Storehouse project, serving the homeless and vulnerable. One turns to the semi-reliable source of Southend Echo (for example, check out here and here) for much of what we know about the latest happenings, which I follow with interest and healthy caution. I have to declare an interest. For many years, until two and a bit years ago, I have been associated with Coleman Street Chapel (now taken over by the Potters House Christian Fellowship). When the Chapel was built in 1900, one of the declared priorities of those responsible was to serve the poor living in the tenements that were to be replaced in the 1960’s by the buildings that now make up the Queensway Estate. We tried to continue that work with the residents of the tower blocks, with limited success. One service we offered was to host resident meetings and I was part of a steering group to make changes to the local environment. But times move on and changes are afoot. In fairness to the Council, there has been consultation and some of the concerns and aspirations of a larger cross section of that community and those with an “interest” have been taken on board.
Sometimes in life and especially as one gets old, one has to take a view what one can and should do and what one can’t and shouldn’t do. I would love, for example, to not only have a vision of what my town centre should be (including the Queensway Estate) but being more actively involved in ensuring changes made are the right ones. One can detect, and for all sorts of reasons I am sure, that developments have come too slowly and more needs doing that truly serve the residents of the town. When it comes to local politics, this is perhaps one of the key aspects I look for in deciding who to support in their aspirations to become a Councillor. The biggest issue remains affordable housing, but giving my main area of activism is helping the homeless and those living in less than satisfactory accommodation, I would say that wouldn’t I? But I will continue to maintain a watching brief and lend support when I can.