5: Providing for vibrant and attractive town centres

The main shopping centres of the Borough are the town centre and two district centres at Westcliff and Leigh. These are complemented by a number of local centres at West Leigh, Eastwood, Southchurch Road, Thorpe Bay, North Shoebury and Shoeburyness. In addition there are retail parks at the Airport, London Road, Greyhound Way and Fossetts Farm and a number of stand-alone large supermarket facilities.

Southend Town Centre

Southend town centre lies at the heart of the Borough providing a range of business, educational, retail and leisure facilities. It is focused on two indoor shopping malls connected by a long linear pedestrianised High Street. At the north of the High Street is The Victoria shopping mall and at the south is The Royals.

Like many comparable centres in the UK, Southend town centre has felt the impact of the recent economic recession and effects of changing retail patterns. Several factors have created a need for retailers to rapidly adapt their business strategies and store formats in the light of changing economic circumstances. These factors include

  • reduced consumer expenditure growth
  • changes in customer requirements
  • growth of internet and multi-channel retailing.

The combination of these factors has resulted in an increasing number of retailers concentrating trading activities within larger centres and out-of-town retail parks in order to compete effectively with on line retailers. As a result, the strength of the comparison retail offer in larger centres continues to improve relative to small centres. This has had a negative impact on Southend in comparison to such centres as Chelmsford. It has impacted on the quality of the retail offer in Southend town centre with the majority of retailers now being value to mid-market.

However, in contrast there have been a growing number of cafes, bars and restaurants established, particularly at the northern end of the centre adjacent the Odeon cinema and at its southern end linked to the major tourist and related leisure facilities located adjacent the foreshore. This has brought a new vibrancy to the centre complemented by increasing residential provision and a growing student population centred on the town centres University campus. Leisure turnover in the centre is expected to increase over the next 20 years, the majority of this growth being in the food and drink sector.

Future demand for retail growth is therefore limited and there is an urgent need to consider alternative strategies for the town centre to retain its vitality and vibrancy. For example, there is potential to encourage a mix of uses in the centre building on its leisure, educational, tourism and cultural offer together with office and residential development opportunities.

The recently adopted Southend Central Area Action Plan (SCAAP 2018), in seeking to provide a much more flexible approach to the type of uses that should be permitted in the High Street, relaxed previous policy provisions to allow a greater mix of uses in the centre such as cafes and restaurants. It also encourages further residential development in the town centre and the expansion of the University campus and associated student accommodation.

Other Centres

The two district centres of Westcliff (Hamlet Court Road) and Leigh provide mainly a local retail service. Westcliff mainly performs a convenience retail role whilst its environment is of mixed quality. In contrast Leigh provides a unique selection of local independent convenience and comparison retail operators and a higher quality of retail offer. Current planning policy seeks to retain and enhance the viability of these local centres together with the other local shopping centres.

In developing new planning policies for the Boroughs’ retail centres it is important that they embrace the impact of changing retail shopping patterns and markets to ensure that they retain their vibrancy and attractiveness.

What issues does this cover?

  • Changes in national retail shopping patterns affecting the viability of town centres
  • Assessing the need for a flexible approach to development within town centres, such as allowing more cafes, bars and restaurants and housing
  • Identifying the need for environmental improvements of the public realm

What information or evidence do we need for this issue?

  • South Essex Retail Study 2017
  • Southend Retail Study 2018

See our evidence papers for more information

Related Southend 2050 Outcome

  • We have a fast-evolving, re-imagined and thriving town centre, with an inviting mix of shops, homes, culture and leisure opportunities.

What United Nations Sustainability Development Goals does this Issue contribute to?

If you would like to find out more on this issue we have prepared a Retail and Town Centres Topic Paper

Providing for vibrant and attractive town centres - Have your say

Please provide comment in support of your choice

How best can we ensure that our town centres are successful, vibrant and attractive places in the face of changing retail demands?


Should Southend Town Centre remain the first preference for all forms of retail development and for other town centre uses attracting large numbers of people, followed by the district centres of Leigh and Westcliff?


Review the role and function of Southend Town Centre to provide for a more flexible approach to development schemes? For example:


do you think a greater mix of uses should be allowed such as retail, cafes and bars and other leisure uses, education facilities, offices and residential? or


do you think the town centre should be refocused into specific themes, for example establishing leisure, education and retail zones? If so, which parts of the centre do you think this should be applied to? This would require the current primary and secondary shopping designations to be radically reviewed;


Do you think the current town centre boundary (see SCAAP or Retail and Town Centres Topic Paper) should be amended? Should we allow more residential uses on the periphery?


Do you think the Westcliff and Leigh shopping centres should continue in their current formats or do you think there should be changes?


Encourage and promote further enhancements to the public realm, such as improved paving, seating, tree planting and landscaping. What do you think the priorities should be and where?


Do you have any other issues/comments you would like to raise?