Summit called to put High Street back on track

Published Wednesday, 19th September 2018

Southend High st with lots of people

A summit is to take place to agree a common approach towards making the High Street more attractive while tackling crime, antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping.

Leading figures of Southend’s High Street are set to attend an extraordinary meeting to agree a common approach towards making the High Street a more attractive destination for shoppers and visitors while tackling crime, antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping.

Deputy Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, Cllr James Courtenay, has invited senior council officers and members as well as representatives of Essex Police, the Southend Community Safety Partnership and Southend Business Improvement District (BID) to a High Street Summit at the Civic Centre on 24 September.

Announcing the summit, Cllr Courtenay, said: “Southend has just had a record-breaking summer, with the good weather bringing visitors in their droves to our shores and winning our town the title of Britain’s top staycation destination.

“But on our high street, retailers and residents alike are telling me a less positive story. Aggressive begging, drug and alcohol abuse, and antisocial behaviour are an increasing concern for local people and businesses. They all cultivate an atmosphere of fear and negativity that deters shoppers and visitors and damages our economy. We need to do better.

“A great deal of work is already being done to bolster the High Street’s appeal. The Business Improvement District (BID) – to which the council is the single largest contributor and represented on its board– employs Street Rangers to help welcome visitors and support the police, council and partners in providing a visible uniformed presence. It organises varied programme of events, such as the recent Italian Festival, weekend fireworks and the popular Christmas Light Switch-on, all of which draw tens of thousands to our town centre. And they have helped improve the attractiveness of the High Street with bunting, hanging baskets, street art and street-cleanliness initiatives.

“But as a town, we collectively need to clamp down harder on the gangs who import drugs and violence here and we need to take action on professional beggars.

“Southend has a wealth of services for those in our town who are genuinely homeless and willing to be helped to address the causes of their homelessness. We need to intensify these services and better understand why these offers are often rejected.

“We need to be firmer on those for whom rough-sleeping is a lifestyle choice. On those who happily accept hand-outs of food and tents to help sustain a drug or alcohol problem rather than address it. And we need to better understand why so many people with no connection to our town choose to sleep rough on our streets or under canvas in our parks. We need an agreed approach to tackling the very real challenges our High Street faces – backed up by tougher action and enforcement.

“It’s time to re-affirm our High Street as an attractive destination for commerce and recreation. This summit is a first and urgent step in that process.”

The High Street Summit is the first in a series of events and discussions taking place as the Council and its partners develop an action plan for the High Street.