2.4 Retail Provision and Centre Hierarchy

Southend town centre, the district centres of Leigh and Westcliff and the network of neighbourhood and local centres offer a wide range of retail, leisure, employment and other community services and facilities to both residents and those who visit the Borough.

It is important that the vibrancy and vitality of these commercial centres are maintained and enhanced to ensure we provide for healthy, complete neighbourhoods that are accessible for local residents and encourage local employment opportunities. National planning policy advocates that local planning authorities implement planning policies and decisions that support the role that town centres play at the heart of local communities, by taking a positive approach to their growth, management, and adaptation. These issues are considered in more detail in the relevant neighbourhood sections.

The centres play an important role in providing a range of facilities and services in the heart of our communities, offering easy access to the full range of services and goods required for daily living.

The centres enable sustainable economic growth, offer diverse retail and commercial uses, generate local employment, and provide a wide range of social and environmental benefits as a cornerstone for social interaction within neighbourhood areas. These centres and their classification are shown in Table 13.

Southend Town Centre will continue to be the first preference for all forms of retail development and for other town centre uses attracting large numbers of people. The centres of Westcliff (Hamlet Court Road/London Road) and Leigh (focussed along the Broadway and Leigh Road) will support Southend Town Centre as District Centres providing a range of local comparison shopping, convenience shopping and services to the surrounding neighbourhoods. Existing centres elsewhere will be supported as Neighbourhood and Local Centres and will meet the day-to-day convenience and community needs of their local residents.

Please refer to the Southend Central neighbourhood in Part 3: Neighbourhoods to view and comment on detailed proposals for Southend Town Centre.

Table 13: Commercial Centres

Map Ref.

Name of Centre

Neighbourhood (see Section 3)

Town Centre


Southend Town Centre

Southend Central

District Centre


Leigh (focussed along the Broadway

and Leigh Road)



Westcliff (Hamlet Court Road/London Road)


Neighbourhood Centre


Eastwood (Rayleigh Road)



London Road (Thames Drive and Hadleigh




London Road / West Road



Sutton Road South



Southchurch Road



Woodgrange Drive



Thorpe Bay (Broadway)

Thorpe Bay


Shoeburyness (West Road)


Local Centres


Rayleigh Road, (The Oakwood PH)




Rayleigh Road / Whitehouse Road


Rayleigh Road, Kent Elms Corner


Eastwood Old Road







Eastwood Road


London Road, The Elms


Elmsleigh Drive


Bridgewater Drive, Kent Elms Corner


The Ridgeway


London Road, Chalkwell School


Bridgewater Drive South


London Road, Chalkwell Park


Rochford Road





Eastwoodbury Crescent


The Bell Prince Avenue


Hobleythick Lane /Prince Avenue


Earls Hall Parade (Cuckoo Corner)


Fairfax Drive



Victoria Avenue/ West Street,


Sutton Road North

Town Centre and Central Seafront


Sutton Road Centre


Southchurch Avenue




Cluny Square


Hamstel Road


Woodgrange Drive East


Shoebury Road (Bournes Green)

Thorpe Bay


Barnstaple Road


Ness Road




The Renown


High Street, Shoeburyness

In addition to these centres the Borough has a number of out of town retail parks as set out in Table 14.

Table 14: Out of Town Retail Parks

Map Ref. Name of Centre Neighbourhood (see Part 3)
A Eastwood (Western Approaches) Eastwood
B Thanet Grange/ Tesco Prittlewell
C Airport Retail Park Prittlewell
D London Road Retail Park Westcliff
E Greyhound Retail park Southend Central (Town Centre and Central Seafront)
F Fossetts Park Southchurch
G North Shoebury Shoeburyness

The location of all the all commercial centres and out of town retail parks are identified in Map 8.

Map 8: Commercial Centres and Out of Town Retail Parks

Retail and commercial centres in Southend

Maintaining Healthy and Thriving Centres

The Government has recently introduced radical changes to the Use Class Order* that seek to promote the regeneration of centres by allowing greater freedoms for changing retail to other uses. As such the introduction of a new ‘Commercial Use Class’ (Class E) consolidates a number of different uses so that retail use is now included within a wide range of other uses, including: food, financial services, gyms, healthcare, nurseries, offices and light industry. Any change of use of a building or land between these uses does not, therefore, require planning permission. For this reason it is proposed to define all the centres listed in Table 13 and 14 as “Commercial Areas”, where we will promote ground floor uses to be within Class E Use Class and encourage improvements to shopfronts and the street scene.

As of August 2021, the Government is also introducing expanded permitted development rights to enable Commercial Uses to be converted to residential** without planning permission, although some tests will still need to be satisfied: premises must not be in a conservation area; must be under 1,500sqm in size; must be vacant for 3 months and there will be a consideration of the impacts of noise from nearby commercial uses on the intended occupiers. Due to this there are limitations on safeguarding ground floor commercial uses within key centres from changing to residential.

However, under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order*** a local planning authority can apply to the Secretary of State to withdraw specified permitted development rights across a defined area. The use of Article 4 directions should not be expansive and therefore if we were to use them to restrict ground floor commercial uses from changing to residential, we must focus them to the most important frontages. In reference to Table 13 and 14 and Map 8 we are interested in your views on which centres if any we should investigate for using Article 4 Directions in order to restrict ground floor commercial frontages from being developed to residential under permitted development.

The proposed Commercial Areas are set out and mapped within Part 3: Southend Neighbourhoods.

Future Retailing Needs

The Southend Retail and Leisure Study**** identified potential retail demand in the Borough over the next twenty years. This study was undertaken in 2018 before the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and as such has to be treated with some degree of caution. However, it gives a good indication of future demand having regard to changing retail patterns and the growth in on-line shopping.

Although there has been limited activity in the retail sector in Southend Town Centre in recent years, the retail study highlights the potential demand for an additional 5,000m2 net in convenience retail floorspace over the plan period. Commercial leisure uses will constitute a growing share of town centre floorspace driven in part by the increase in household leisure expenditure and reduced demand for retail space in secondary centres and identifies the significant growth potential of the food and drink sector.

There is little evidence of demand from comparison retailers despite falling rents in the prime areas, nor has there been any substantial investment in the town centre in recent years. Southend is not seen by national retail multiples as a location for expansion.

Whilst identifying qualitative deficiencies in the comparison offer in Southend Town Centre, the study notes that given the expansion at Lakeside and the

improvements to Chelmsford’s comparison offer, there is justification for supporting enhancements to Southend’s comparison function in the longer term in order for the town to maintain its current role and function as a major centre and facilitate sustainable spending trips/patterns. Over the plan period it identifies a potential need for an additional 49,000m2 net of comparison goods floorspace.

However, this in itself does not necessarily point to the need for an increase in comparison floorspace given the current vacancy rates in the town centre, which remain above the national average. Instead the Study notes that in the short term it may be beneficial to focus policy objectives on improving the role and function of the existing comparison floorspace within the town centre before the need for any additional provision is considered.

In the District Centres the Retail Study identified subdued demand for additional operators in Westcliff whilst in contrast the Leigh District Centre is identified as having a healthy demand. The latter is noted as having an excellent range of good quality retailers, both comparison and service outlets with a strong evening economy. The low vacancy rate illustrates the strength and good health of the Leigh District Centre. However, there needs to be a recognition of the potential imbalance between the numbers of hospitality outlets and protection of traditional retail and local businesses.

In the Neighbourhood Centres and out of centre retail parks the retail study does not recommend any changes.

These issues are considered in more detail in the respective Part 3: Southend Neighbourhoods.

What does this Issue Cover?

  • Responding to rapid changes in national shopping patterns affecting the viability of town centres
  • Assessing the need for a flexible approach to uses, such as allowing more food and drink, leisure and civic uses, along with more housing (above ground floor)
  • Identifying the hierarchy of town and local centres in the Borough
  • Identifying proposed changes to centre boundaries in some locations
  • Strengthening walkable neighbourhoods, where day to day facilities are within easy reach

What information or evidence do we need for this issue?

  • South Essex Retail Study (2017)
  • Southend Retail Study (2018)
  • Southend and Rochford Settlement Role and Hierarchy Study (2020)

Related Southend 2050 Outcomes - where we want to be

  • There is a tangible sense of pride and local people are actively, and knowledgeably, talking up Southend
  • Our streets and public spaces are valued and support the mental and physical wellbeing of residents and visitors
  • People have a wide choice of transport options

Question 2.4 Meeting Our Retail Needs

Have your say………Please explain your answers

2.4a Do you agree with the classification of centres and that they should be promoted in line with the proposed hierarchy (Table 13 and 14 and Map 8)?

2.4b Should we seek to define each centre as ‘Commercial Areas’ to promote a range of commercial uses to serve local community needs and provide local employment opportunities?

2.4c Should we investigate using Article 4 direction to safeguard ground floor commercial uses within the town, district and neighbourhood centres by restricting permitted development to residential – if so what frontages?

2.4d Do you agree that we should focus on improving the role and function of existing comparison retail floorspace and their setting, including measures to reduce the number of vacant units, rather than providing additional retail floorspace in the short term?

2.4e Should future convenience retail floorspace be directed towards the Town Centre in line with the proposed centre hierarchy, or should the focus be elsewhere – if so where?

2.4f Thinking about any potential provision of new neighbourhood/s to the north of Southend and the role they could play in terms of retail provision, should we promote new centres, incorporating ancillary retail floorspace, to provide easy access to shops, services and facilities? Please provide further detail to support your answer. 

2.4g Should we develop policies to protect small and local retail outlets in centres such as Leigh in order to provide a balance between retail and hospitality outlets?

You can also view and comment on all the individual sites using the online mapping feature: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council – Local Plan: Map 1 Borough wide map with neighbourhoods and specific housing and employment allocations (opus4.co.uk) 

*The Government Recently introduced under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 radical changes to the Use Class Order retail uses which fell within Use Classes Order A1 (Shops), A2 (Financial and professional services), A3 (Food and drink), have now been consolidated into a new Class E (Commercial, Business and Services). Office, research and development and light industrial uses which were in Use Classes B1 (Business) and medical and health services, creche, day nursery and day centre uses (Class D1), and indoor sports, recreation and fitness uses which were in Class D2 (Assembly and leisure) are also consolidated into the new Class E. **Use Class MA ***An Article 4 direction is a direction under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order which enables the Secretary of State or the local planning authority to withdraw specified permitted development rights across a defined area. An Article 4 directions cannot be used to restrict changes between uses in the same use class of the Use Class Order. An Article 4 direction does not mean that planning permission will necessarily be refused but it brings it under local planning authority control. ****https://localplan.southend.gov.uk/new-evidence