THE last ten years has seen Victoria Avenue transformed from rundown office blocks to plush homes so could this be the answer for our dying High Street?

Once a sorry state with a number of derelict tower blocks, Southend’s main thoroughfare has since been dubbed “Southend’s Park Lane”.

The High Street has also been in decline, with empty shops presenting a dismal atmosphere it what was once a bustling retail centre.

With online shopping now the norm, and little chance of it returning to its heyday, there’s the question if we could also see it transformed into much-needed housing.

Carole Mulroney, councillor responsible for planning and the environment, doesn’t believe that will happen.

She said: “We realise the High Street is struggling and things need to be done. 

“Residential and leisure will feature in that because that will bring more people into the area.

"Residential brings people in and adds to the security of the area so it will form some part of plans going forward but I don’t think shopping is going to die out completely and we want to support traders.

“There will be an amalgamation of things going in the High Street and there will be a balance of all these things.”

Ms Mulroney added: “These conversions are going through under permitted development so there is a concern to make sure we are not putting people into rabbit hutches.

“It would be awful to come out of the pandemic and in a rush for housing there is not a lot of quality.”

Council leader Ian Gilbert was also concerned about the quality of commercial property conversions. 

He said: “We are generally in favour of converting space above shops into accommodation and there are a number of examples of that already. 

“Having people living there is a good thing as long as these are decent fit for purpose units.

“One of the problems we can have as a council that these can be converted into residential units without the need for planning permission and sometimes there are examples where that has gone wrong badly.

“That hasn’t happened in Southend yet but we must be careful.”

Southend Council has announced it will buy the Victoria shopping centre. 

It is not yet clear what changes there will be within the centre but it is possible the council will encourage community organisations to locate there, providing a boost for retail outlets.

The Victoria Circus area at the top of the High Street is set to benefit from council investment encouraging a cafe culture area there and open space for people to unwind once lockdown ends.

At the other end of the High Street, the controversial Seaway leisure complex, which includes a cinema and restaurants, is likely to draw in extra visitors to the town.

The hope is the two schemes will provide extra visitors to shops in the middle of the two.