Southend Central Area Action Plan & Proposals Map - Proposed Submission

Ended on the 17 October 2011
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6. Public Realm and Environmental Quality Strategy


SCAAP Objectives 2, 4 and 5

  • To improve the buildings and public realm, including accessible green space, within the Central Area, to manage traffic and improve cycling and walking facilities so that Southend becomes a place that is more pleasant to experience and move around in;
  • To always have regard to the significant biodiversity assets and environmental quality of the Central Area, help meet obligations on carbon emissions and adopt an approach to climate change through measures that mitigate against, or adapt to change, including managing flood risk and water efficiency;
  • To promote design excellence in all things and to ensure that this quality standard is also expressed within the actions of our delivery partners;

6.1 Context

180. The Central Area is characterised by a strong zonal geography with offices and civic uses to the north, retail use focused on the High Street, and leisure uses on the Seafront. A finer mix of uses is developing to the west of the High Street in relation to educational, cultural, retail, and food and drink units. The east of the high street is dominated by large areas of surface car parks and terraced residential streets tightly abutting the Town Centre boundary. To the east and north of the Town Centre, Queensway represents both a strong access road to the plan area but also acts as a ‘collar’ to the Town Centre and a barrier to pedestrian and cycle access in some places.

181. The northern part of the Plan area comprises two large residential neighbourhoods, which comprise a variety of residential types and tenure and local centres for shopping and employment. The traditional office quarter and Southend United Football club are also located in these areas

182. These unique characteristics have been recognised through the identification of nine distinct areas known as ‘Quarters’, and two gateway neighbourhoods within the Central Area. It is necessary to understand the character of each Quarter, their relationship to the other Quarters and the Central Area as a whole, and to have regard for the wider townscape, in order to ensure development respects and enhances local character to provide a high quality, well designed public realm.

183. Development within the Central Area that impacts upon the public realm and the environmental quality of the area must have regard for the following policies:

Policy Context Summary
Southend Core Strategy DPD –
adopted December 2007
Policy CP2
Policy CP3
Policy CP4
Development Management DPD –
publication of proposed submission document March 2011
Policy DM1
Policy DM2
Policy DM4
Policy DM5
Policy DM6
Policy DM13
Policy DM16

184. The Borough Wide Characterisation Study (2011) provides an appraisal of the urban characteristics of the Borough and should be used in conjunction with policy documents to develop an understanding of local character.

6.2 Identifying assets and opportunities

185. At the Issues and Options stage of the SCAAP (July 2010), the natural and built heritage of the Central Area was recognised as a major asset. The enhancement and linkage of public realm, open space, landscape, seascape and heritage assets will play a major role in shaping how people experience the Central Area. This strategy sets out the strategic framework for ensuring these assets knit the town together.

186. The importance of Southend’s heritage assets and a strategy for how these will be safeguarded and enhanced within the Central Area is outlined within The Historic Environment Chapter. Enhancements to the public realm will be responsive to the historical setting of these assets and should seek to improve the quality of their environmental context, building upon existing and forming new, easy to navigate, pedestrian routes between these and other assets identified within the Central Area.

187. An assessment of the quality of the built form, open spaces and pedestrian routes has been undertaken for the purposes of the SCAAP, together with an appraisal of notable features worthy of protection, specifically: Landmark Buildings and Visually Important Views [see Appendices 2 and 5].

188. The outcome of this assessment has identified a number of key issues for the Central Area:

  1. Limited Functional Green / Open Space within the Central Area and connectivity with the existing Green Grid;
  2. The need for Public Realm enhancements to improve the environmental quality of the central area through a consistent design approach and public art provision;
  3. Promoting active frontages to enhance visitor experience and expand the Town Centre;
  4. Protection of visually important views; and
  5. Identification and protection of landmark buildings.

These issues are addressed in detail below.

6.3 Addressing the Key Issues

6.3.1 Key Issue 1: Limited Functional Green and Open Space within the Central Area and opportunities for Reducing Pressure on the Ramsar site.

189. The Borough boasts an impressive wealth of high quality and well-maintained public open space. While the north and west of the Borough are characterised by relatively large areas of green space, and the Seafront presents large areas of parks, gardens and informal green areas, the lack of green space in the central area is particularly noticeable in comparison. This can in part be accounted for by the fact that the Central Area is comprised of some of the oldest urban areas in the Borough, which feature relatively tightly planned streets of terraced small houses and ‘villas’.

190. The existing green spaces in the Central Area include:

  • Warrior Square Gardens
  • Prittlewell Square
  • The Alexandra Bowling Green
  • The Shrubbery
  • Cliff Gardens
  • St John’s Churchyard
  • Churchill Garden’s
  • St Mary’s Churchyard
  • North Road Cemetery
  • Private school space
  • Greensward within and adjacent to Queensway

191. Existing civic spaces include:

  • Victoria Circus
  • Victoria Gateway
  • City Beach
  • Civic Square – Victoria Avenue
  • Pier Hill platform
  • Top of Pier Hill
  • The Pier

(1)192. What is evident from this is that the areas to the east of Victoria Avenue and the High Street, as well as the area behind the Seafront to the east, are where good quality green space for leisure purposes is lacking. The Council will therefore promote the creation of new open space and urban greening measures within these areas as a priority and as part of development opportunities. These new open spaces will also be expected to contribute to local biodiversity and the mitigation of the effects of climate change by:

  • linking through the existing green grid to create a network of open spaces;
  • planting larger varieties of trees (particularly native species and those suited to coastal areas) to provide shading and food sources and habitats for wildlife;
  • planting of plant native species to provide food sources and habitats for wildlife.

193. The Council recognises that there is also a lack of useable events space within the Central Area and Victoria Circus, given its size, will be protected for this purpose. The creation of a new events space, particularly at the High Street, is however considered a priority and the Council will support the creation of additional event space where necessary and appropriate. This space should be adaptable to the needs of its users, including options for seating, public art, a distinctive lighting scheme, and use of good quality materials that together contribute towards the vibrancy of the Town Centre.

194. The Seafront area provides a unique form of open space for Southend and varies considerably from east to west as the local topography alters and creates differing relationships between the land and sea. The seafront is home to the Benfleet and Southend Marshes European Marine Site, which encompasses both the SPA and the Ramsar interest features.

195. Within the Core Strategy DPD (2007) the Seafront area is recognised as a priority area for regeneration. However, it is a key principle of the spatial strategy in the Core Strategy DPD and the approach to regeneration and growth in the Central Area that biodiversity interests (particularly those of international importance in the estuary) and green space should be protected and enhanced where possible.

196. The Appropriate Assessment (AA) of Core Strategy highlights that Policy KP1, which promotes the development in the seafront area, is likely to result in increased recreational and development pressures on the designated European sites. It is therefore imperative that the Central Area provides functional open space linked to other attractive destinations in and around the Borough, in order to relieve pressure on the Borough’s European designated sites.

197. Underpinning the Council’s approach to mitigating the impact of population growth and regeneration is the provision of new and enhanced public spaces with linked access through the green grid concept to provide alternative recreational opportunities and reduce pressure on ‘honey pot’ areas such as the Seafront. This builds on, and is embedded within, the South Essex Green Grid Strategy and Thames Gateway Parklands Initiative (see Map 5: Thames Gateway South Essex Green Grid Strategy 2004: Southend and Rochford Strategic Area Framework).

198. Particular attention will be paid to the improvement of existing public spaces, and for the creation of new public and civic spaces as identified within Appendix 2. It is the Council’s intention that existing and new open spaces will be linked together in a legible network of trails that are being developed through the Southend Urban Habitat Strategy.

(1)199. On this basis, the following objectives have been identified by the Council for open space, green space, and urban greening within the Central Area:

  • Green and civic spaces should provide a place for leisure and to relax in an urban environment and improve the public realm;
  • Civic spaces should be adaptable for use for events and exhibitions;
  • Green space, in particular, is critical in terms of combating the effects of climate change by providing heat sinks and havens for shade, and must be increased in the Central Area;
  • Green spaces and urban greening can contribute to the enhancement and protection of local wildlife and biodiversity, and within the Central Area an approach should be adopted that encourages the planting of local species and those well adapted to a coastal environment;
  • To enhance the green grid an interconnection of spaces and attractions by attractive ‘green’ corridors that have the ability to provide good quality cycling and walking routes in and around the town, thus reducing the impact on the biodiversity interests of the foreshore, will be a priority.

Map 5 – Greengrid TGSE

Map 5

(3)Policy PR1: Open Space Provision and the environment

1. The Council will implement a rolling programme of:
  1. high quality new and enhanced open spaces, with particular focus given to areas identified in the Policies for Development Strategy and Proposal Sites within each Quarter and Gateway Neighbourhoods and listed in Appendix 2 to enhance the quality of the environment and streetscape within the Central Area for residents and visitors and to provide positive biodiversity benefits; and
  2. new and enhanced public space within or close to the High Street capable of acting as an event space (see Policy DP1 The High Street Development Principles).
2. In order to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the environment within the central area and to relieve the pressure of potential increased visitors on the Ramsar site due to population growth, the Council will require all open spaces within the Central Area to be integrated within a wider green grid network, by:
  1. ensuring entrances to spaces align with walking and cycle routes;
  2. provision of clear signage to, and information about, other destinations within the green grid, utilising the trails and networks being developed by the Southend Urban Habitats Strategy;
3. The Council will require all new open space to:
  1. relate well to surrounding uses;
  2. be well lit at night in order to provide a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists;
  3. wherever possible and appropriate have a planting palette of native species and/or that which provides good wildlife habitats including nectar/pollen rich varieties and shade from the sun.
4. Where appropriate, new developments within the Central Area will be expected to contribute to the enhancement of existing, or provision of new, public open space through S106 agreements and developer contributions.

6.3.2 Key Issue 2: Public Realm Enhancements

200. When well designed and responsive to its surroundings, the public realm can act as the glue that binds an area together. It is the Council’s aim therefore that the Central Area will benefit from a high quality public realm, well designed to address the needs of residents and visitors, to enhance its aesthetic and environmental quality, and to provide a joined up, legible network of streets.

201. The Council has sought to enhance the quality of the public realm within the Central Area through a number of improvement schemes, as demonstrated at Victoria Gateway, City Beach, Elmer Approach, and Clifftown Road for example. There is a need however to build upon the success of these schemes in order to make sure a fully integrated approach to the enhancement of the public realm is adopted, which improves the legibility of the area through its form, layout and detailing, contributing to the permeability of the Central Area by creating a choice of safe, convenient, well designed ‘gateways’ and clearly defined, signposted routes. In addition to the guidance in the Design and Townscape Guide, development proposals will be expected to adhere to the design principles and palette of materials which will be established by the Streetscape Guide SPD in order to provide a unifying theme and distinctive sense of identity to the Central Area.

202. It is the Council’s intention that the Central Area becomes an accessible and attractive ‘destination’ for visitors and provides an attractive environment for residents, workers and businesses. The success of this vision is dependent on the provision of a locally distinctive, well designed, quality public realm which will provide an attractive setting for buildings and other uses within the Central Area, the obtainment of which should be a key consideration in all development proposals for the area.

203. The Issues and Options Report (2010) of the SCAAP identified the opportunity within the Central Area to encourage a greater mix of uses to enhance accessibility between the different Quarters and to increase the physical breadth of the Town Centre. There is also an opportunity for development within the Central Area to promote more permeable street layouts and improve pedestrian and cycle links and associated way-finding signage in order to encourage sustainable travel, as well as defining a more distinctive urban grain to enhance the experience of the Central Area for residents and visitors.

(1)204. The following objectives have been established to create an attractive public realm and ensure that new and existing, pedestrian and cycle routes contribute towards a legible, safe network into and around the Central Area:

  • To improve legibility within the Central Area for residents and visitors through the provision of good quality, clear, attractive way-finding signage, landmark features, and public art;
  • To enable residents of the Central Area to access the wider area by sustainable means;
  • To enable visitors from outside of the Central Area to access it by sustainable means
  • Increase activity in streets within an expanded town centre
  • To ‘green’ the buildings in the Central Area through the installation of green walls, green roofs and roof gardens

205. Development proposals within the Central Area will be expected to demonstrate an awareness and understanding of these objectives, contributing to a successful hierarchy of routes.

Public Art and Urban Greening

206. Public art (including sculptures, murals, land works, unique street furniture, distinctive lighting schemes, architectural design) and ‘urban greening’ features, such as green walls and green roofs, can enrich new and existing development either as an integral part of the design of a building or by being incorporated into the public space within or around it. In order to enhance the environmental quality of the public realm, and promote legibility and way finding, the Council will seek to establish an increase in public art provision and urban greening features within the Central Area and in line with its Public Art Strategy.

207. Public Art will be used to strengthen the attraction of the Central Area to visitors and the Council considers it to be appropriate for major development proposals to consider public art provision as an integral element of the design process, with pre-application discussions encouraged to agree an appropriate design and siting. Where this approach is not demonstrated to be appropriate, development within the Central Area will be expected to provide a financial contribution towards the cost of public art provision in the Central Area.

208. In order to generate a sense of pride and ownership in a particular area, and promote links with local business and enterprise, the local community should be engaged with in order to involve them in the development of public art in their area, and the use of local artists will be encouraged by the Council.

(3)Policy PR2: Public Realm Enhancements

1. In order to promote local distinctiveness, the Council will pursue the following principles for streetscape enhancement:
  1. a coordinated palette of materials and colours;
  2. well designed and coordinated street furniture;
  3. a reduction / removal of street clutter, including guardrails, duplicate or redundant signs;
  4. public art installations in, but not confined to, the locations identified within Appendix 2, in association with major development and through positive engagement with the local community and local artists to create a unique sense of place;
  5. appropriate urban greening installations, including green walls and green roofs, to enhance the built form and contribute to local biodiversity;
  6. appropriate street tree planting and planters; and
  7. a creative Lighting Strategy will be prepared and implemented to ensure that distinctive lighting schemes enhance important features such as landmark buildings, key views, public / civic spaces and public realm enhancement schemes.
  8. Establish a Central Area Arts Trail.
2. In order to promote access to and from the central area by sustainable modes, and improvements to legibility and permeability through the built environment particularly within an expanded Town Centre the Council will pursue a rolling programme of:
  1. improvements to the quality of existing and creation of new fully pedestrian and cycle priority routes;
  2. consider the potential for ‘mixed mode – pedestrian and cycle priority’ routes where appropriate
  3. improve gateway crossing at key locations on Queensway and routes into the central area
  4. establishing good quality, appropriately located way finding signage including where possible its integration with public art;
3. In addition, the Council will through its role in determining planning applications require:
  1. development proposals to demonstrate how they will contribute, in terms of building form, layout, and detailing to the creation of a choice of safe, convenient, well designed and clearly defined routes and gateways
The Council will require public and private realm work to have regard to the guidance within the Design and Townscape Supplementary Planning Guidance. Further guidance will be provided in the Streetscape Guide SPD.

Where appropriate, financial contributions will be sought towards these works from development proposals situated within Central Area.

6.3.3 Key Issue 3: Visually Active Frontages

209. Areas that are poorly lit and rarely used can feel threatening and encourage anti-social behaviour, which can have a negative impact on the quality of the urban environment and the experience of an area for residents and visitors.

210. There are a number of instances in the Central Area where backs of buildings face onto the public realm, yet are blank and visually inactive, thus creating a negative environment particularly for pedestrians walking through the area. Within the Central Area therefore, the Council will seek to encourage visually active frontages, particularly in the locations identified within the Appendix 2 in order to promote a more pedestrian friendly environment and support and compliment attractive retail circuits.

211. To help achieve this, a mix of uses is encouraged for development proposals within the Central Area in order to increase the natural surveillance throughout the day and evening. Ground floor uses should avoid blank frontages. Parking within the ground floor of buildings will not normally be permitted, particularly where this displaces other accommodation from street level.

212. Where vacant units exist within the Central Area, in the short term the Council will encourage the introduction of public art into the ground floor windows of these buildings in order to enhance the buildings’ façade and the quality of the townscape, and to provide local artists with the opportunity to showcase their work.

(1)Policy PR3: Visually Active Frontages

1. Appendix 2 and the Proposals Map identifies a number of key areas within the Central Area where there are blank, inactive, and unattractive backs of buildings that have a negative impact on the environmental quality of the public realm. In these cases, the Council will encourage:
  1. the creation of more visually active frontages either through new uses at ground floor or the use of well designed and appropriately placed windows and entranceways
  2. the installation of public art, green walls, and well detailed signage to enliven these frontages
2. Proposals for new development should seek to provide activity at ground floor in order to enhance the attractiveness of the area and encourage people to explore further particularly around an expanded town centre in accordance with Policy DS2.

6.3.4 Key Issue 4: Protection of Visually Important Views

(1)213. There are a number of visually important views from the public realm and public open spaces in the Central Area that take in landmark and historic buildings, monuments and statues, views into and out of conservation areas, views of landscape features and views of the Pier and Seafront. Together, these visually important views help to define the character of the Central Area and create a sense of place through their contribution to the interest and general character of the townscape.

214. Views of public open spaces also have an important role to play in helping to provide a sense of space and in breaking up the urban form and the Council will seek to ensure that these and other visually important views identified within Appendix 2 are not harmed by any development proposals.

215. There will be occasions where a well designed, tall building, which is responsive to its surroundings and well integrated with the surrounding townscape can enhance the character of the Central Area. However, the design must be of a high standard, reflecting the principles established by the Development Management DPD and Design and Townscape Guide SPD, and demonstrating an understanding of context, particularly in regard to visually important views.

(1)Policy PR4: Protection of Visually Important Views

The Council will seek to resist any development that is considered to cause harm to the Visually Important Views identified within the SCAAP. New development will be expected to demonstrate that it is compatible and / or enhances these views.

6.3.5 Key Issue 5: Landmark Buildings

216. ‘A Landmark Building is defined as one that has become, or may become, a point of reference because its height, siting, distinctive design or use sets it apart from surrounding buildings. Examples may include churches and town halls’.

217. Landmark buildings provide orientation within the Central Area and are important at both a strategic and local level. They are relatively limited in number and generally occupy strategic locations such as road junctions, terminations of vistas, and corners.

218. A building or feature will not be considered a landmark simply given its height or massing, indeed many of the existing landmarks within the Central Area are of a modest scale, but it must be of a high quality, recognisable and distinctive. Certainly, it could be represented by a piece of public art, architectural feature, or use of materials.

219. Existing landmark buildings, identified within this strategy (detailed in the Appendix 4) should be protected and enhanced. New development should not compete with existing landmarks in terms of bulk or height, and views of these buildings should not be overtly disrupted (link to Policy PR4).

220. A number of areas have been identified within Appendix 2, for the potential location of new landmark buildings and features within the Central Area. Where considered appropriate, landmark buildings and features should demonstrate a coherent design approach, which has understood the character and form of the surrounding townscape. The most suitable locations for landmarks are likely to be gateways, transport junctions, corner sites, sites that terminate views or vistas, and areas where a particular activity is focused, such as the Seafront or Town Centre.

(1)Policy PR5: Landmark Buildings

1. The Council, through its role in determining planning applications, preparation of development briefs and other initiatives, will protect landmark buildings or landscape features within the Central Area from adverse affect by:
  1. the development of strategic open spaces which provide views or enhanced setting;
  2. resisting adverse impact of new development by virtue of excessive height, mass or bulk.
2. The Council will support and encourage the creation of new landmarks in the areas identified within Appendix 2, where development proposals can demonstrate:
  1. design, detailing and use of materials are of exceptional quality and interest;
  2. the location would provide a focal point for an existing vista/sight line or generate a new one; and
  3. the proposals do not adversely affect the amenity of local residents.
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