On 18/10/2018, Southend Borough Council finally SCRAPPED their ridiculous plans for a £55M Museum on Green Belt land.
In December last year, we stood with over 50 concerned residents and rallied in Prittlewell Square to demand the council take notice that the residents of the area did not want the proposed Cliffslip Developments, namely the plans to convert the existing Esplanade Pub site into 23 luxury flats and to build a £55m museum on geologically unstable green-belt ground.
Since then, the campaign has rumbled on slowly gaining more public awareness and support.
In late September, the local Green Party began remobilising the efforts against the museum plans after a Freedom of Information request by a local resident found that the proposed developments would cost £55Million.
Shortly afterwards we issued a statement and announced a Public Meeting to organise the several campaign groups into one unified force and plan a series of protests.
Just days before the proposed Public Meeting was due to take place, the council announced with no warning that they had decided to drop the plans in it’s entirety, with Cllr Slater stating at the Council Meeting of 18/10/2018 that the scheme was “not feasible, not viable, and not going to happen.”
“We welcome the decision from Southend Borough Council to drop the plans, but we condemn the Council for bringing the decade-old dead-horse idea back in the first place. The council has already spent far too much public money drafting several sets of architectural drawings for a Museum no-one wants.”
As the only political party in Southend opposed to these ridiculous schemes, the Green Party is once again proud to have stood with Saxon King In Priory Park and the Stop the Cliff Development residents’ group in standing up to the council and eventually winning against these proposed developments.
HOWEVER, we cannot be complacent…
While Southend Council has finally admitted that the Cliffs is not going to be the location for their “Thames Estuary Experience” Museum, it has not ruled out what will happen to the Cliff Gardens site.
In a recent Echo article an unidentified ‘spokesman’ for Southend Borough Council said;
“In terms of the future of the site, it has potential for other development, which could include residential, parking or other mixed use. The site as a whole might require some longer term work on cliff stabilisation if no other development takes place. Were any future plans for a town-centre museum to come forward, parking would have to be factored into those plans.”
Adding that the work already carried out to the Cliffs;
“… was completed three years ago within the budget. It was required with or without a museum coming forward and is expected to provide medium-term protection against cliff slippage for around 25 years. It will be regularly monitored to ensure that it is performing adequately, much in the same way we do with sea defences.”
The part that concerns us here is the suggestion that the proposed site could be handed over to property developers for residential development.
The inference that the site could in some way now be used for residential homes is a slap in the face of those who have campaigned so hard for so long against the development of the Cliffs. The council seems to have completely misunderstood the concerns of the local residents; it wasn’t just specifically the museum we object to, but rather the notion that a much-loved piece of historically-significant Green Space could be developed on.
Seemingly in an effort to retain the equally-contentious Car Parking element of the proposals, the Council now seem keen to outwardly alleviate the worries of the people of Southend, while back-handedly proposing this site be retained for future residential development.
This is of course without mentioning the fact that the site is also a High-Risk flood environment, and that any subterranean carpark will flood like clockwork every year, even before considering the expected sea-level rise because of Climate Change.
“We are appalled that despite acknowledging that the Cliffs are not a suitable place to build a Museum, Southend Council seem so blindly preoccupied with the concept of building on the site that they are considering opening up the land to residential development.
Green Space in Southend is such a scarce resource as it is, and we do not need any more developments threatening to set the precedent that building on public land is in any way okay.
We emphatically oppose any and all development on the Southend Cliffs, residential, commercial or otherwise.“
The Conservative administration have also been hinting heavily towards their intention to use an empty retail unit in the High Street to locate their new Museum, which has drawn criticism from SKIPP.
With more town-centre businesses closing every month, our High Street is seriously struggling and looking more and more like a Ghost town every day.
Earlier this year, the council controversially scrapped one-hour parking in the Town Centre in a bid to generate £700K, and brought in new electronic signs diverting tourists to car parks many miles from the High Street. These measures in combination with harsher business rates have proved tough for many High Street retailers, and many town-centre businesses have been feeling the strain with a few recognisable stores closing for good.
We wonder why it is now that the Council are considering ‘diversification’ of the High Street as a good idea.
“We do not believe that the High Street is an appropriate location for the proposed Museum, and the Conservative plans to ‘diversify’ the already-struggling High Street seems to us to be a last-ditch effort to draw attention away from the fact that local businesses are struggling.
We call on the council to adequately listen to local businesses, and sufficiently address their concerns.”
But what about the Museum..?
Southend Council argues that many of the Town’s collections of relics and historic artefacts – including the Saxon King Saebert, and the wreckage of the HMS London – have been kept in storage due to the space limitations at the relatively small current site.
We believe that the solution to the current Museum situation lies in two phases:
The restoration and expansion of the current Museum, and the construction of the SKIPP Museum in Priory Park.
Southend Central Museum has the readily available expansion capability and could be tripled in size without building on any Green Belt land. This expansion of the current facility would result in the ability to put the Museum’s vast collection on permanent display in a modern environment, with ready access to the town’s Public Transport routes.
Any relocation of the Museum from its current site risks the eventual loss of one of Southend’s oldest public buildings, which is something we cannot support.
We believe strongly that the SKIPP proposals offer the town the best way of displaying the historically-significant remains of King Saebert in a purpose-built facility in Priory Park.
The SKIPP group have been campaigning for a Sutton-Hoo style interactive educational facility on the Brownfield land in Priory Park for years. The SKIPP proposals follow the example of many similar facilities and have consulted the expert advice of many Archaeologists and Historians.
The site, which is within walking distance to the over thirty ‘High-Class’ Saxon and Roman Burial sites, would feature authentic replicas of Saxon huts and would house the remains of King Saebert in a secure replica of a Saxon Great Hall.
The SKIPP proposal in addition to the expansion of the current museum is the most sustainable and cost-effective solution to the current issue of housing the remains.
The South East Essex Green Party will continue to monitor this issue, and the campaign will continue with local residents’ interests as the central priority. We will not be satisfied until the Southend Cliffs are granted unequivocal protection from residential or commercial development.
We will continue to raise awareness of this issue, and we remain just as strongly against any further development of the Southend Cliffs.