I don’t want to be a 'doubter' but how happy are the people of Leigh-on-Sea?
Much has been made of the August 2016 Rightmove poll which placed Leigh top of the ‘Happiest Place to Live’ poll. There were twelve deciding factors which attributed to people’s happiness with an area and Leigh came top in several of them. These included access to sports and recreation, to arts and culture, opportunities to develop skills, having non-essential amenities on the doorstep, a friendly community and ‘nature and green spaces.’ It does have all of these, along with a quick 45 minute commute in to the city of London. Needless to say, Property agents in Leigh-on-Sea have been rubbing there hands together in glee at the thought of the extra revenue this ‘happy advertising’ brings.
Another of the twelve criteria was ‘earn enough to live comfortably.’ Is this referring to affordability, not the kind of ‘affordable housing’ affordability, with its social connotations, as there’s not much of that in Leigh now and probably can only be found in the new Albany development down Nelson Road in Leigh? The affordability which means you can buy and pay for your home and still have enough money spare to shop and eat in many of Leigh’s artisan establishments.
There by hangs one of my doubts. How long will Leigh remain an affordable place to live? Certainly there have been house price increases by at least 15% in the last year but the same can be said of Southend-on-Sea, especially in the Southchurch area of the town. To rent in Leigh, as any Leigh-on-Sea property agent will tell you, is becoming extremely lucrative business for investors and has resulted in a considerable amount of Leigh’s housing stock being sold and used for this purpose. This could very well erode the ‘sense of community’ that Leigh has if part of it is transient. High rents could also diminish earning enough to live comfortably.
As for ‘nature and green spaces,’ thank goodness for the seaside and parks in Leigh, as these cannot be built upon! Well not yet, anyway, because one of the things that is making Leigh people unhappy, is the overdevelopment of the town.
Over at least the last 6 years, Leigh-on-Sea Town council has seen continual opposition to many of the building redevelopment and developments proposed.
The luxury Eden Point in Rectory Grove met with much opposition but is a now completed multimillion pound apartment’s development, overshadowing the town’s outdoor bowling club.
The snooker hall in Leigh Road is now surrounded by several new houses and apartments and plans are afoot for the snooker hall itself. http://www.leighonseatowncouncil.gov.uk
New apartment developments are now being built right up to the pedestrian pavements, as can be seen with one on the Broadway, opposite the Grand Hotel. The Car Cleaning Company, also opposite the Grand, has plans in situ for redevelopment into homes and this is currently being opposed.
The Grand hotel itself has been subject to much controversy with its ‘Only Way is Essex’ connections. People in Leigh would be happy for this development to continue with a promised boutique hotel and spa area with maybe apartments above. It looks very likely, however, that despite opposition, it will be completely changed to apartments. Providing it doesn’t suffer the fate of the Bell Hotel on Leigh Hill, which fell down whilst being developed. Planning for the redevelopment of this Hotel into homes, took 9 years to be passed and the outcome was very different to what was thought it might be.
At least Southend-on-Sea has a ‘Southend Central Action Plan’ in place. Southend, like Leigh, has grown from a small fishing community with links to its ancient predecessor, Prittlewell, to a large seaside town. It has history in abundance as well as parks and beaches, but a sense of community spirit has been lost.
According to Mr Peter Hawkins, South Westcliff Community Group, this can be caused by a lack of identification in an area, where everything runs into everything else. In Southend, there are areas where history and community spirit combine to make desirable places to live, as in Southchurch for example. Southchurch Hall which was the medieval seat of Southend, with its moat and park, is being fought for by the local community, not to stop development but to regain laws that would make it safe for people to use and enjoy once more.
This area of Southend has within it a newly managed Marine Activity Centre, where sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and jet skiing are just a few of the activities which can now be enjoyed by all. Up the road, northwards, is the Adult Community College which offers everything from academic qualifications to Tai Chi.
If you get on a train at Southend East Station for London Fenchurch Street, it might take 10 minutes longer in journey time, but you will get a seat for the journey.
Overdevelopment of an area is what makes people unhappy, whether it be in Southend-on-Sea or Leigh-on-Sea. Property agents in Southend-on-Sea want Southend to be a town recognised for its past, interesting achievements and historic architecture. They also know that modern faceless buildings are popping up all over the place. These two towns are very close to each other in geography and in continuing development of high rises without thought to road infrastructure and people’s living conditions. This could mean the two towns just merging together in the future. Leigh especially, has a hard fight in store just to keep it from becoming a soulless sprawl and a cash cow for developers.
Indeed, many people have benefited from the increased sale prices of their Leigh properties and not only Leigh-on-Sea property agents. Many have moved to Southend, where they have purchased larger properties for less money, with off street parking.
They have packed up their buckets and spades and relocated to just 4 miles east along the coast to Southend-on-Sea, thereby enjoying what both Southend and Leigh have to offer.
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Thanks for reading, Sharon Harris.
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