James Duddridge, the Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East, spoke as Cities Minister Greg Clark visited the town yesterday to finalise the deal to boost businesses and regenerate the area.
The deal will see Southend benefit from £2.5million of Government investment, which will be spent on small business grants and developing a business incubation centre in the vacant Central Library.
A further £3million in private investment and £670,000 from local government will go towards developing commercial, residential and mixed-use sites.
It is eventually hoped businesses will move out of the incubation space and into newlydeveloped premises on the opposite side of Victoria Avenue, encouraging further development along the road.
Mr Duddridge said: “Victoria Avenue has been a blight on the town. I was looking for office space for a few of my workers recently and it is like going into a time warp with cubicle offices. Blowing the whole thing up and starting again is a good idea.”
The council had hoped for greater powers over planning regulations as part of the deal, but they have not materialised.
Mr Duddridge added: “As a member of the governing party, I need to look at things nationally and locally, and see if we can shift things along with compulsory purchase orders. We are there to change the law if it is wrong, and if the law says a whole swathe of a town cannot be regenerated, then it needs to be changed.”
Southend Council leader Nigel Holdcroft said there was now £8million in the council’s budget for compulsory purchase orders, but he hoped to be able to talk to the owners of the land to encourage development.
He said: “Alternatively, they work with us by selling the space at a reasonable price. Then the final option is a compulsory purchase order, but I would be disappointed if we had to do that.”
The plans were also backed by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, which hopes to be able to financially back any future developments.
Peter Jones, chairman of the partnership, said: “We are creating an investment fund, which I hope will allow Southend to acquire the land on Victoria Avenue, pull it all down and start again with a serious quality redevelopment. It would be hugely positive for business, tourism and other aspects of Southend.”
HELPING HAND OFFERED TO NEW BUSINESSES
Start-up businesses will be given a helping hand by Southend Council’s plans to turn the old Central Library building into a new business “incubation” space.
The plan to turn the two upper floors of the empty building comes as part of the new City Deal.
Cities Minister Greg Clark signed the deal yesterday and said the town has a reputation of supporting entrepreneurs.
He said: “Southend was identified as one of the places outside London that could really drive growth.
“The intention is to have a domino effect. With the library close to the station, once you attract businesses to that space to grow, what is better than to just move up the road into a new office?”
The incubation space would be used by start-up businesses to give them a premises, before developing into a functioning business and moving away to make space for new enterprises.
It would also, among other things, advise businesses on how to access funding, negotiate on property and develop online business solutions.
David Burch, policy director of Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: “The idea of an incubation space is something we would whole-heartedly support. We very much welcome the City Deal and the benefits it will bring to the town.”