SOUTHEND’S shops are dying because the High Street is surrounded by single mothers, alcoholics, drug addicts and benefit claimants who cannot afford to spend enough money.

That is the view of Anna Waite, a former leader of Southend Council and chairman of the Rochford and Southend East Conservatives Association.

She spoke out as she urged the current Tory council leadership to take action to stop Southend slipping even further behind Lakeside, Bluewater and other major shopping centres.

Mrs Waite, whose family own Tomassi’s restaurant in the High Street, said the poor economic situation of many people living nearby was a fact and should not be a taboo subject for councillors.

She said: “All around the town centre are runwdown properties, bedsits and hostels.

“Single mums in bedsits, drug and alcohol addicts, the homeless and those on multiple benefits do not have cash to spend in shops.Therefore, when a store looks at Southend, it does not come unless it is a pound shop or something similar.

“I am not saying these people should be moved on or taken away from the town centre, far from it. I am saying we need to do something to redress the balance.”

Mrs Waite said the High Street was hampered by the number of bedsits and cheap homes around the town centre, which attracted discount pound stores rather than big brand shops.

She argued that building new apartments and houses on central sites, such as the northern side of Queen’s Road or the Queensway tower blocks, could change that.

She said: “Southend is on London’s doorstep.

“We have a great opportunity not to be a dumping ground, but to be somewhere where commuters want to live.

“We can do that by building attractive homes. It is time for us to stop thinking negatively about Southend and make some real changes.”