At the recent St. Lukes hustings, one of the questions that were asked to the candidates for this coming Thursday’s Local Council elections was around their views regarding the proposed developments around nearby Fossetts Farm (situated in my ward and close to where I live), about building a new football stadium for my local club (Southend United) plus a lot more, including if plans put forward today are to come to fruition, a retail park.
This was also front page news in today’s Southend Echo under the title: “Fossetts Farm development would kill Southend High Street, retail group warns”. This cast my mind back, not just to the hustings but to a long running saga that has been going on for years. I have also noted in my lifetime how a large area of green belt land, the other side Eastern Avenue between Sutton Road and Thorpe Hall Avenue has been gradually developed over the years, and if this scheme were to go through there will be precious little green space left, and among other things this may well add to the traffic problems facing the ward.
I must admit that it was me that posed the question at the hustings and stirred the pot. I did so in the spirit of an interviewer asking bright candidates a question where I full well knew there was no clear cut answer. What I was looking for was to be able to ascertain how the candidate were to approach the matter if in a position of power, given this was something that would markedly affect the life of the ward and town. While I may be an oddity on such matters, the responses I can glean influence significantly who I vote for.
I suppose, on reflection, the candidate that impressed me most, although I did not entirely agree, sensing that the idealism / realism balance may have been found wanting, was that of the Green candidate, who argued his case well. Not only did he refer to the obvious environmental consequences which one might expect from anyone waving the Green banner, he also sought to unravel the socio-economic consequences, coming to a similar conclusion to our newspaper headline. The rest, from what I could recall, generally went along with the idea the development was a good thing, albeit with caveats. The question also brought up the matter of the proposed Seaway car park area which, while a separate matter, have common elements (I seem to recall cinemas and casinos have been mentioned for both). There are also questions over the ethics of what is going on, the power of outside, vested interest interests to impose an agenda not conducive to the good of the town and, pertinently, the mettle of the Councillors, who have at least some power and influence in these matters, to steer a right course.
Speaking in the car to some of me team mates last night, coming home from my away chess match, we had a short, animated conversation over the pros and cons, hopes and fears for the Fossetts Farm development. While opening up some of the issues, we were left undecided as to what is the right way to go. There was in my mind no doubt that an already run down High Street, compared to its hey day, will be further run down if the development were to go through and would ask to what extent this is a bad or inevitable consequence. On the other hand, what is being proposed for Fossets Farm could be the way ahead for the future e.g. jobs and, having passed by a tired and out dated looking Roots Hall, I saw there was a case for a modern football stadium, among other things.
But my mind is open on the matter and I need to weigh the facts and formulate a vision. I would hope whoever does get elected onto our local Council will have the acumen and drive to ascertain what are the facts and to provide a measure of much needed leadership.