By Local Democracy Reporter
THE South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) is to invest more than £7million in Essex to support town centres.
At its February accountability board meeting, SELEP agreed to release money from its allocation of £570m of the government’s local growth funds to projects in Southend and Grays
Southend is to receive £4m for public realm and place-making improvements, as part of the Southend Central Area Transport Project (S-CATS).
As the key gateway into the town centre, Victoria Circus and the stub end of London Road will be the focus of the improvement plans. The area attracts approximately 3,000 pedestrians on weekdays, increasing to 4,000 at the weekends.
Victoria Circus is a key space that pedestrians need to cross to get to and from the High Street, London Road with its restaurants, bars and main supermarket in the town centre, as well as Southchurch Road, Victoria Shopping Centre and the alleyway connecting Victoria Gateway and the train station.
Christian Brodie, chairman of SELEP, said: “The health and wellbeing of our town centres has a significant impact on the area’s economy and influences investment decisions and the ability to attract and retain staff.
“The government has recognised that town centres are where commerce and communities meet and have recently announced its Future High Streets Fund.
“We will be working with our partners to unlock financial support for forward-thinking projects to help our high streets respond to the changes they face.
“Through the investment in public realm, the Southend project will improve the quality of journey for pedestrians, and cyclists and importantly provide a more attractive welcome into the town centre.”
The funding will support the next phase of the Southend Central Area Transport Project (S-CATS), with the key elements identified thanks to the EU-funded Horizon 2020 SUNRISE action research project.
The SUNRISE project brought together Southend-on Sea Borough Council and stakeholders, including local residents, businesses and partner organisations to tackle town centre mobility challenges.
A further £3.7m will be spent supporting the Grays South project which has been designed to reinvigorate the town centre by making it more attractive to retailers and delivering 400 new homes and office accommodation above the shops.
By 2023 a new underpass will have replaced the existing pedestrian level crossing, helping to address the safety concerns shared by Network Rail and Thurrock Council, and tackle the significant divide that the crossing creates within the town centre.
New public squares will be created at either end of the underpass to improve the public realm and provide a high-quality arrival point and meeting place within the town centre, and also improve links to the existing college and High Street.
These public squares will also provide the opportunity to host events within the town centre, thereby adding to its vibrancy and vitality and supporting local businesses.
Mr Brodie added: “The funding will tackle some of the challenges that have been holding back the regeneration of Grays’ town centre.
“As a town, Grays has suffered a gradual decline since the opening of Lakeside shopping centre in 1990, and with the pace of change accelerating as shopping habits become more digitally driven, it is now vital that we intervene in order to improve the town’s prospects.
“This project will enhance and improve the whole experience of visiting Grays and be a timely boost for the economy.”
The investment will help integrate public and private transport to create a hub for pedestrians and cyclists together with bus and taxi passengers, and make the station’s platforms Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant.
The project will also support the refurbishment and development of the Civic Offices. This will help to maintain the council’s presence in Grays.
By relocating staff from other premises and co-locating them with other public services it will increase footfall in the town centre during the day.