SOUTHEND city centre should take inspiration from its bustling neighbour, Leigh, to drive a high street renaissance, business bosses say.

The city council is embarking on a drive to re-shape Southend High Street in an effort to tempt more shoppers in.

Businesses have pointed to free parking, tackling crime, and offering people more to do as potential solutions.

Philip Miller MBE, chief executive of Adventure Island’s parent company Stockvale, said an example of success was close to hand.

“Why not copy Leigh and give two-hour free parking off the side roads of the High Street?” he asked. “Maybe the High Street might become a big Leigh.”

Southend’s lack of parking was a recurring concern, especially free parking in the city centre.

Paul Thompson, 48, owner of Pebbles One Cafe, said: “It’s very simple in my opinion, we need more parking, and it needs to be free.

“You can change the paving stones as much as you like, but people need to be able to park.”

Jonathan Peters, manager of the Seven Hotel on Southend’s cliffs, believes the problem is more complex than parking.

“Yes, you can point to parking, but look at Brighton, the state of their parking is dreadful yet people flock there,” he said.

“The problem is there is not an awful lot for people to do when they do come to Southend. We have a failing High Street and people who visit always ask ‘What is there to do?’.”

Mr Peters believes any regeneration must encourage independent businesses, and should take inspiration from Brighton’s Lanes district, famous for its unique and alternative shops.

Business owners also pointed to high levels of crime and called for better lighting and CCTV.

Mr Miller said: “Right now the most important improvement is to make customers feel safe night and day. It’s got so bad that Jaywick can give us a run for our money.”

Daniel Burzotta, owner of Il Pescatore restaurant in Queens Road, added: “We need to make the town centre feel safer, whether that is with better lighting or CCTV. It doesn’t feel safe to be around here at night.”

Mr Miller added:“Cosmetically speaking, I would ask the excellent parks department to design and build a seasonal floral spectacular from one end to the other.”