Southend-on-Sea has featured in many national headlines, most recently thanks to the huge honour of a royal visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, to bestow city status on ‘City Day’.
This was a wonderful, but bittersweet, occasion, and even now it is hard to believe that what tragically preceded it – the death of our local MP Sir David Amess – could have happened in Southend-on-Sea.
We are a diverse ‘city by the sea’ – part traditional British seaside town, part commuter belt, incorporating the historic fishing village of Leigh and the garrison town of Shoeburyness, where weapons testing can still be heard.
The British seaside atmosphere is still an important part of our identity to be preserved. The seafront and pier remain the best-loved aspects and day-trippers continue to visit in their thousands. Our tourism economy is strong.
Clearly, a modern city needs more than one industry. Already boasting some high-tech manufacturing businesses, Airport Business Park Southend will encourage more such companies into the area.
In the post-COVID-19 world, we will see even more jobs being done remotely. With that in mind, our decision, in 2014, to work with CityFibre to become one of the first full-fibre ‘gigabit cities’ is extremely important.
One long-term issue we face is skills. The wider area is relatively poorly served by higher education opportunities, and qualification levels among the adult population remain relatively low.
We are working with our neighbours to bring forward a new technical university, in partnership with key employers, to provide university-level qualifications in a more inclusive, non-traditional way.
Our tourist economy will remain important to our livelihood and identity, and a new leisure park, anchored by an 11-screen IMAX cinema, just a stone’s throw from our seafront and city centre, will complement our existing and more traditional economy.
Long known for our cultural and leisure offering, we will continue to build on that, so our new city is just as relevant, popular and exciting as it was in its early days.
We were successful in our levelling up bid to enhance Leigh Port and the Cliffs Pavilion. Leigh Port is part of our history, but also a working fishing port and an attraction for visitors. The Cliffs Pavilion is a popular regional theatre and venue. We have a vibrant live-music scene, and host the UK’s only Jazz Centre, as well as notable art galleries and museums.
“We want, as Sir David wished, to boost the profile of Southend and to foster civic pride”
Being a seaside city brings with it many challenges and we face serious day-to-day needs. Adult social care is increasingly stretched and our budget this year focuses on addressing that pressure as best we can.
A massive programme of road and pavement resurfacing to address decades of under-investment is also under way.
The formal granting of city status was a great honour for Southend, albeit one achieved in tragic circumstances.
We are working cross-party and cross-community to make sure it is something in which the whole of Southend can share.
We want, as Sir David wished, to boost the profile of Southend, encourage investment, and foster civic pride.
We have an exciting range of events that will show our new city at its best and you are more than welcome to join us to mark this new era.