BUSINESS representatives from Southend told the Labour Party leadership that the high street needs to become “a social experience” during a meeting.

Southend businesses met on Thursday at the Park Inn Hotel to discuss the future of the High Street with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour parliamentary candidate Ashley Dalton.

The meeting at the included representatives from small independent businesses, large chain retailers, the Victoria and Royals shopping centres and the Federation of Small Businesses.

Additionally attending were Labour councillors Anne Jones, Ian Gilbert, Cheryl Nevin and Julian Ware-Lane.

Businesses said the High Street should be a community hub and “social experience” that attracted people to stay for a day or a weekend, rather than just a shopping centre.

They said town centres needed a mixture of elements to remain viable, including national chains, independent shops, eateries and entertainment venues, but also residential areas to bring people to the centre of the activity.

Planning restrictions around converting commercial buildings into homes can make it difficult to put residents close to the town centre, they said.

Crime and anti-social behaviour were also high on the agenda. The manager of a major retailer reported people urinating in the store and assaulting members of staff.

It was also stressed that despite the police’s good work, more officers were needed.

There were a number of issues holding back small businesses, attendees said. Small businesses said the national business rates system was stacked against them.

Businesses noted that the presence of the university in the town could be the key to its regeneration. If the retail and entertainment offer could be re-orientated to appeal more to young people, more students graduating from Southend may choose to live and work in the town.

Ashley Dalton, Labour’s candidate for Rochford and Southend East, said: “Local businesses came to this meeting full of ideas to make Southend High Street a premium destination.

“Retail is a huge part of Southend’s economy and the High Street is its centre. Sadly, we have seen an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour and more empty units on the High Street.

“I am thrilled that businesses gave us their time today and look forward to lobbying for changes that will benefit them.

“That Jeremy Corbyn visited Southend today speaks volumes about our town’s importance as an economic centre of the county and the region. Southend has a proud history as a hub for tourism, dining, retail and entertainment. Labour is determined to do everything it can to help towns like ours realise future opportunities.”