PERFORMANCE arenas, comedy stores and art galleries could fill empty shops in Southend as part of a new plan to evolve the town centre.

Southend Council’s cabinet is expected to approve a dedicated task force which will team up with businesses, community groups and charities to “reimagine” the High Street area.

The work will centre around an in-depth report published by the council in April which concluded town centres are no longer driven by retail and “the future of the town centre is predicated housing, community and experience rather than retail-led regeneration”.

In the short-term, the group will look to make more of the historical architecture on the High Street through better lighting and new walking trails.

They will also look to introduce a shop-front improvement scheme, which will provide funding to businesses to improve the appearance of their stores.

In line with the move away from a retail-focus, the council bosses say they also hope to work with event organisers to streamline applications, making it easier for events such as concerts to be held in the town.

In the medium to longer-term, the group hopes to use vacant buildings to house pop-up comedy stores or arts venues.

Kevin Robinson, cabinet member for culture, tourism and business, said: “Town centres up and down the country are facing the challenges of changing retail trends, socio-economic shifts, and cuts to local Government budgets. However, this is not the first-time town centres have had to adapt. They have evolved over time, and this is yet another transition point.

“The scrutiny report builds on the work done through our 2050 programme, where we listened to local people about what they want and expect from their town centre of the future.

“I am delighted that cabinet is being asked to agree the recommendations of the report, and as the local authority we are well-placed to start working to set up a driven partnership with other individuals and organisations to make the proposals a reality and ensure we have a town centre that can thrive into the future.”

Dennis Baldry, chairman of Southend Business Improvement District, welcomed the plan and said he hopes to work closely with the new group.

“It is well known that the focus of the High Street is generally shifting to a mix of retail, leisure and housing,” he said.

“Such variations could offer new opportunities for Southend if they are accepted and implemented in a positive manner.”

“The High Street is evolving and we will be supportive of any new chances for businesses, of all types, to move into or return their investment to the town centre and Business Improvement District.”

The cabinet will discuss the plan during a meeting at 2pm on Wednesday at the Civic Centre.