On Wednesday, there was an interesting feature on the future for the West Road Shopping Area in the Southend Echo.
In the tough economic climate, the retail sector in general has been suffering as hard pressed families watch their spending to ensure that they make ends meets. There is also the fact that the increase in Internet shopping and supermarkets have had an impact generally on the High Street and in particular on independent shops.
As a resident myself in West Road, one of the qualities of living there is that I have a local shopping arcade within walking distance of my front door. I am also blessed that I have the Ness Road Shopping Area also within a stones throw and where practically possible I use these local shops.
What the article didn't really address or explore are some of the local issues in addition to the general issues of why local shopkeepers in West Road are finding times difficult. There is no doubt in my mind that West Road and Ness Road's struggles started when the Post Office closed some time ago and are further compounded by the fact that the nearest cash point is in the Asda complex.
Yes, I do agree the council has a role to play in invigorating West Road Shopping Area and encouraging people to shop. Along with my fellow ward councillors we have worked hard to get any graffiti removed when it appears, had more litter bin installed, ensure that West Road Shopping Area is cleaned every morning and to keep free parking.
I have also committed to local residents and shopkeers that I would personally object to any new application for a takeaway as I believe there are more than enough and anymore could make also make them commercially unviable - in past couple of years three takeaways have already folded in Ness Road. I know this approach could lead to some empty shops in the short term but I take the view that this approach encourages a better mix of shops and services in the long term.
But the shopkeepers have a role to play to. One of the biggest criticisms that I have from local residents is that they can never park in West Road - even at times when shopkeepers say custom is quiet. I suspect that this may be down to the fact that parking spaces are utilised by staff who work in the shops.
Around four years ago concerns were expressed to me by the shopkeepers that their premesis were suffering from vandalism and general anti-social behaviour. To try and combat this I arranged with the borough's Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator to set up a group with local shopkeepers here. I set up a meeting at a local community centre, spoke to all the shopkeepers about the idea and wrote to them all in advance yet not one shopkeer attended.
Yet on the other hand, the shopkeepers in Ness Road speak to each other and over the past two years have even chipped in together to get Christmas lights and decorations for the festive season.
I do not think all is doom and gloom in West Road as there has been a steady trickle of new businesses opening in the past couple of years with the Mayor opening a new venture just a couple of weeks ago.
It is undoubtable that the shopkeers in West Road and Ness Road have passion, determination and Shoebury at heart but ultimately I say to residents 'use em or lose em'.