Despite Tory claims, the Cliffs Museum will be very visible

Some within local Conservative Party ranks may choose to believe that “the only thing visible would be the windows looking out over the sea” when it comes to the proposed Cliffs Museum. This somewhat defies reality.

The museum, if ever built, will almost be the height of the cliffs – some five storeys are planned. This includes a car park. The frontage, car park entrance, and indeed various entrances to the museum and restaurants planned will all be visible. Not only this, but the Cliffs gardens here will have to make way for this structure.

By all mean applaud your vandalism, but do not pretend that the impact is minimal. It is a carbuncle that will permanently alter the character of the Cliffs in the area where it is to be imposed. And I keep to my opposition to it.

Big green nothing

022030My objection to the Cliffs Museum is well known and I am still hoping that it will founder through lack of funds. Until the sponsorship comes, or the council tire of waiting, we have an interregnum, a pause which stops anything useful being done with the site. Southend Council are much like Miss Haversham, dressed for a wedding whilst waiting for a groom who may never appear.

What we have at the moment is akin to wasteland as the council, ever hopeful of the arrival of magic money, are reluctant to plant anything beyond grass. No trees, no shrubs, no flowers – just a great big green nothing at the moment.

The cliff tops is hardly much better, for although we now have an expanse of lawn (and what looks like areas concreted in anticipation of benches), the shelters are gone forever. The bandstand looks unlikely to return – a Tory promise consigned to the dustbin.

Bandstand, landscaped gardens, shelters – surely these are preferable to the gargoyle that is promised as a Cliffs Museum. This gargoyle, at a cost that defies sanity in times of austerity, will be built to accompany another multi-screen cinema, an end-of-pier folly, a barely open kiosk, a Forum and a rowing club boathouse, whilst those non-essential items like local libraries, children centres and residential care homes founder on the lack of pennies.

Garston and the Echo in contradistinction to my findings

Today's Southend Echo, page 7

Today’s Southend Echo, page 7

Someone appears to be inhabiting an alternate universe. It could be me, but I think it is the Southend Echo reporter (Lorne Spicer) who thinks residents are ‘happy’ with what is going on at the Cliffs at Clifftown Parade.

Perhaps loaded questions were asked when the reporter sought opinions because I found unanimity when asking whether people wanted the cliffs slippage fixed. I also found unanimity on the question of a new museum for our town. On both subjects there was a thumbs up.

What I did not find (in any significant numbers) were residents keen at the plans for a museum on the site of the slippage. I found many angry residents, more than a thousand, who feel that this is a disaster.

Cllr Jonathan Garston may be “delighted that the work is taking shape at long last”, but I suspect he will come undone when he seeks re-election in 2015. His is the portfolio responsible for this ghastly works, and with his fingerprints so clearly all over this we will discover just how content his residents are.

Maybe I have misread the situation. Maybe my canvassing of opinion on this subject was way short of the truth. Maybe not, though. I just hope Jonathan reminds his residents, come 2015, about his role in this sorry affair. If he doesn’t, I intend to. Then we will find out who has judged opinion in Milton correctly.

The repair/destruction begins

The cliffs at Southend-on-Sea are about to change forever as preliminary work begins on fixing the 2002 cliffs slippage in preparation for the building of the Cliffs Museum.

For some this will be a moment of joy. The some include the fifteen members of the Development Control Committee who voted for it, the officers at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council who promoted it, and the handful of residents who are keen on it.

I am unhappy, as are many Milton residents.

Is the fight over? Whilst the larger part of the funding for this project has to be found then there is hope. All who opposed are encouraged to make their feelings known to the local media, their councillors, and to the council in general.

Cliffs Stabilisation

The following is an extract from an email I have received today:

Following receipt of planning permission on 18th July 2012 the Council has awarded to contract for the Phase One Cliffs Remediation works to Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Limited whilst contracts for the removal of the shelters and floral clock have been awarded to Arco Environmental and Gillett and Johnson respectively. We have also received a license for the closure of the Badger Setts from Natural England whilst the Secretary of State has granted the Conservation Area Consent.

Works to remove the shelters and floral clock will commence over the next few days with the main contractor commencing site mobilisation in September 2012. The main piling works to both the top and foot of the cliffs will be completed by the end of the calendar year with landscaping works being completed in January 2013. A project website will be established and go live in early September whilst a newsletter will be delivered to all neighbouring properties at the commencement of the main contractor’s site mobilisation works. The main contractor compound will also include a drop in facility for residents to obtain the latest information of the works – this will be publicised in the newsletter as will two drop in sessions for residents during the site mobilisation period. Subsequent newsletters will be distributed on a monthly basis through to the completion of the works.

It looks like work will begin on the Cliffs Museum very shortly

I have been told that next month will begin the work to shore up the cliffs in Westcliff-on-Sea. Although I want the cliffs repaired, the proposed fix is a bad plan with bad timing.

The bad plan is for the removal of much soil to facilitate the building of a retaining wall. The soil is to be removed and used in Shoeburyness as part of their sea defences. Thus, we will be left with a scar in the cliffs.

It is bad timing as the removal of the soil pre-judges the Secretary of State’s judgement and anticipates funding being found. It also allows for the possibility of sometime between part one of the development and part two.

If the Secretary of State sees sense (unlikely as it is Eric Pickles) and vetoes the plan then what will the council do if they have already used the soil to build an enlarged sea wall at the eastern end of the borough? What will happen if there are no wealthy donors found – are we to be left with an unfinished development? Either scenario exposes the borough to the possibility of its jewel being somewhat tarnished.

What with the ill-conceived palm tree planting and now the possibility of a half-complete development Southend-on-Sea really starts to look like a pale and plastic version of the Costa del Sol.

As to the disruption caused by road closure, this rubs salt into the wounds of those most animated in their opposition as it will be they who will have to endure the noise, traffic and inconvenience whilst this work is being done.

The future of all the cliffs’ green areas – shored up by concrete?

Southend-on-Sea has cliffs that run from roughly where the pier is all the way to Leigh railway station, and beyond. Much of this is green space, although some has been built on.

The recent decision to approve the Cliffs Museum was taken, in part, to shore up an area of slippage. The area adjacent to Prittlewell Square slipped due to water-logging a decade ago. If the cliffs had not slipped it is doubtful that the idea of a museum would even have been hypothesised, let alone approved.

We are told that the Museum (which includes much non-museum development) is necessary to help pay for the cliffs to be repaired: no museum, no cliffs fix. This does somewhat beg the question as to what will happen if other parts the cliffs, covering all of the frontage at Westcliff and Leigh, slip. Will development be the only feasible fix?

I am sure some will see my speculation as scaremongering, but if the logic of building the Cliffs Museum really is so solid then further development will argue the same logic and will have precedence to add muscle to their cause.

The Cliffs Museum vote

It is not every day that I have a part in a multi-million pound spending decision, although my role in the debate about the Cliffs Museum was quite small really; I am not a member of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Development Control Committee (DCC) and so had no vote.

I am disappointed in the outcome, but have no complaint about the process. I spoke my piece, was politely listened to, and I do not doubt that my views were weighed up with the other opinions that were expressed.

I have faith in democracy and must respect decisions, whichever way they go. Some others, like me opposed to the planned museum, cried foul when the vote went against us – I suspect they would have remained silent had our view won out.

So, what now? The council has to find a lot of money somehow. The exact amount varies, but the minimum is £35 million, and £50 million could easily be exceeded. These sums will not be easy to come by. Those who cherished the area and are opposed to the plans will continue to oppose, and hope that the money is not forthcoming.

My opposition centred around the loss of a green space, and no amount of landscaping will hide the fact that much will be concreted over. There are other objections, not least over the viability of the plans and the suitability of the chosen site.

Many in Milton ward have woken up to the fact the voting in local elections is important, for the seventeen members of the DCC who decided the fate of this planning application were all in place to do so because of the votes, and apathy, of the residents of Southend. Development decisions should not be pre-judged, but opinions about green areas, over-crowding, in-character development can be expressed without prejudicing any decision. Voters can ask their candidates for their views, and the candidates should be judged, and voted for or against, accordingly.

Regarding those pesky procedures

Cllr Ian Gilbert has written an interesting piece (Pesky procedures), much that I agree with. However I felt compelled to post a lengthy response, and I reproduce this here.


You will also be aware, Ian, that there are some who enter into a debate about planning applications with a pre-disposition to approve or otherwise. I am no expert on planning, and only a novice councillor, but I am sure it comes to down, on many occasions, to whether you look hard enough for a reason to accept or refuse.

I am not opposed to building on green spaces under any circumstances, only where there is no alternative. I would, for instance, find it hard to reject a planning application for social housing that was made for almost anywhere.

The proposal for the Cliffs does not solve a housing issue, will not house the elderly or sick, is not a much-needed school for central Southend, nor is it a facility for the vulnerable. It is a business park and museum.

I quote from our manifesto, a manifesto that both you and I stood on this May:

We want a greener town and are committed to preserving our green spaces.

We support the creation of an arts centre and museum fit to hold the town’s Saxon treasures.

These two aspirations are not mutually exclusive and I hope I have made it clear that I want a museum. I also want the cliffs left verdant. Whilst accepting your points about procedure (and when I slate the council I am using shorthand for the Tory administration, not the hard-pressed council employees) you can understand why residents can feel powerless. It looks like to them that the system is designed to trip them up, and that those who they entrusted with their votes have abandoned their interests when a muscle-bound developer hoves into view.

I have a lot of sympathy for those left to deal with the bewildering array of legislation. The problem with development on green spaces is that they never return to Mother Nature, and so those who are passionate about our planet see themselves faced with a dire dilemma.

I see myself as a radical. Pitching tents may not be your idea of how to protest, and it would be nice to always play by the rules, but do you imagine that trade unions rights, votes for the working classes, etc. were won without anything resembling civil protest? I marched against the cuts, as I know you did; we all protest in different ways. I am not for camping, but the tents only lasted a day and were meant as a signal for the discontent.

We both campaign against voter apathy. If we cannot show a bit of backbone sometimes then why should anyone bother at the ballot box?

Cliff-top camp

The plan for today was surgery this morning, canvassing in the afternoon, and the music event at The Ship in the evening.

An afternoon of downpours put paid to any thoughts of canvassing. Instead I paid a visit to the cliff-tops adjacent to where the Cliffs Museum is proposed for.

I met with members of SKIPP, environmentalists, and members of the public during my three-hour stay there. I also met with the Evening Echo photographer who was scheduled to take some pictures of me tomorrow, but got them in today instead.

These photos were taken with my phone. They show the shelter where SKIPP are setting up camp, and some of the people who passed by or dropped in during my stint there.

This week will see some big decisions taken by the council in respect of the proposed development of the land-slip site. This issue is animating a lot of Southend’s residents and is the biggest local issue around at the moment. If these cliffs are built on then that is one more piece of greenery gone forever in a town already being dubbed as Concrete-on-Sea.