Council to consider £19m plans for Forum

Published Wednesday, 10th January 2018

Night View of The Forum

The council’s cabinet are to consider budgeting £2.7m towards a four-year programme to realise ambitions to deliver the second phase of development at The Forum on Elmer Square.

View the full draft budget proposals on our democracy pages.

The contribution would help fund a £19m expansion of The Forum - the country’s first combined academic and public library - on the area in front of the award-winning building.

The proposal is part of the council’s draft budget proposals for 2018/19 being discussed by Cabinet next week (Thursday 18 January).

Always intended as a two-phase development, it would be the second stage to the successful Forum on Elmer Square and would be a joint venture between Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and South Essex College.

The two partners have commissioned a detailed feasibility report, which considered a number of options for the development and identified an option that would provide around 5,000m2 of development space, subject to detailed design. If it secures funding and gains planning consent, the building will have a focus on digital, creative and cultural industries – an area of growth for Southend’s economy and skill base, underpinned by the Economic Growth, Tourism and Digital strategies adopted by the Council last year.

Although plans are at an early stage – and funding contributions from the College and other external parties are yet to be confirmed - it is anticipated that the Council contribution would help facilitate contemporary and community art gallery space and associated office, shop, café and project space to expand the existing gallery offer at the Forum as well as digital workspace for creative digital industries.  

The Digital Workspace aims to deliver affordable workspace for local creative and digital businesses, provide affordable access to the latest digital arts equipment and will include co-working space, meeting pods, workstations, an editing suite and a seminar room.

For the college, the new building would house a public and teaching restaurant, performance studios, music rehearsal and performance space including computer music suites and teaching rooms increasing opportunities for students to gain skills in the sector.

Cllr Ann Holland, Executive Councillor for Culture, Tourism and The Economy, said: “Following the success of the Forum, which has attracted over 1.75m visitors since it opened in 2013, officers have begun exploring the second phase of the development with partners and funders. Discussion with partners has identified a significant need for additional and reconfigured space by South Essex College who remain committed to the project.

“The mix of accommodation would, we believe, create a vibrant and lively environment that should enhance the town’s burgeoning educational quarter and also encourage the public and students to visit and use Elmer Square more.”

Anthony McGarel, Deputy Principal and Chief Executive of South Essex College, said: “We’re extremely excited about the proposed new development. It would allow us to increase our popular Digital, Media, Music and Performing Arts offer in Southend plus provide the town with a new restaurant, benefitting students and the local communities we serve.”

The Council are still in discussions with South Essex College and external funding bodies to confirm funding contributions that would bring the project forward.

Design for the new building would need to go out to tender once funding has been confirmed. However, the partners are targeting completion of the building in advance of the academic year commencing September 2021.