When Ash and I moved to (or back to, in her case) Southend almost a year ago, we moved into Victoria ward, practically in the centre of town (Milton ward, I would say, has the honour of being right in the centre). This is a town centre area, hugely convenient for my own commute into London, and with all the incumbant advantages for a young professional couple who could do without the expense of a car.
It being a town centre area, though,it is not without its own issues. One of the big ones is Victoria Avenue.
This dual carriageway runs down towards the high street, and past the Civic Center, and is lined along one side with a great many empty office blocks. It is, honestly, not a good look. From the window of my flat’s front room I can see one great derelict hulk, all dark and broken windows like black eyes. And the letters FTP graffitied at the top (if the meaning is unclear, I will mention only that it sits opposite the police station).
It’s a sad state for the gateway to Southend town centre, and one which I understand has stood neglected for a long time even as people have pushed and pushed to get a plan in place.
This is one of those things which crops up every so often, and indeed it has recently in the pages of the Echo. One of their sporadic Big Conversation features included a piece on what should be done with the area, in response to the council making an offer to buy some of the buildings from their present owners.
The general consensus seems to be to use the space for “mixed usage”, meaning a combination of housing and business. Housing is sorely needed in Southend, and an injection of new supply in the heart of the town would be very welcome; but of course there has to be the infrastructure along with it in order to support it. My own preference would be for family housing, a combination of affordable and social, as well as a new school to provide for said families.
I do notice that the new administration, of which Southend Labour is a part, is more willing to push owners on this. I suspect that previously there was some land banking going on, with property owners refusing to invest or sell up, but waiting instead for the price to increase to make them further money. The Tories were happy to dance around and let them, all the while the office blocks crumbling further. Labour’s local manifesto at the elections in May included a pledge to use compulsory purchase powers, if necessary, to get the ball rolling.
And that is exactly what will be happening. I found out yesterday that a council offer to buy Heath and Carby houses has been refused, and there will now be a special council meeting on 2nd September, at 6.30 p.m. to approve the compulsory purchase orders necessary for the council to take control of them. Make no mistake: this is a serious victory for those who want to see something constructive done with these sites.
Predictably, the response from the Conservative opposition has been negative, accusing the new administration of “stealing [the Tories’] thunder”. Says Tory leader John Lamb:
“They are taking the glory on this one as we had already set aside the money to develop this area. We successfully got money from the Government’s City Deal too, and tried very hard to get more cash from that project.“
Money they had set aside, but were unwilling to take action to use. Under the Conservatives the area rotted. We should have work underway, but thanks to years of Tory dithering its still at the discussion stage. If they oppose the joint administration’s moves to purchase these sites, then they will be acting against the express will of every Victoria resident I have spoken to.
We’re a long way from seeing Victoria Avenue rejuvenated, but between this and the new home of the Beecroft Gallery opening on the road (more on that once I’ve had chance to visit), the change in local government seems to be seeing good things for Victoria.