When the coronavirus crisis is over, the job of putting Basildon back together will begin with the transformation of our town centre becoming more important than ever.
Even through this crisis we have continued to work in the background to put things into place so we can quickly move forward with plans.
From what Basildon town centre is at the moment – overwhelmingly a place to go shopping – we are reshaping it into a home for thousands of people, an attractive destination for people region-wide seeking leisure and entertainment and a creative and dynamic place to work and do business.
Now is most certainly the time for a total reimagining of Basildon’s town centre.
Our vision sees the birth of a night-time economy in the heart of the town and creation of more than 4,000 new homes, and a 5,000 seater arena that will be home to music, arts, sports and e-sports entertainment. We have to look to the future and build a town that works for everyone. We have unrivalled accessibility, by road, rail and air, and are the central hub within the South Essex corridor of commercial activity.
The transformation is already evident with work underway on a £30m leisure development in the heart of the town centre consisting of a 10-screen cinema, which will be operated by Empire Cinemas and house the largest screen in the South East outside London. This will be accompanied by restaurants and improvements to the public realm.
Basildon has grown exponentially since its birth as a new town into the biggest economy in the Thames Gateway outside of Canary Wharf. Our borough consists of five distinct towns and is home to a working population of more than 114,000 with 8,700 businesses contributing £3.9bn to the Essex economy. We are home to global names like Ford UK, CNH Agricultural and Leonardo. In 2017, Costa Coffee opened Europe’s largest coffee roastery here.
The town centre will soon welcome an influx of students as a new state-of-the-art digital technology college takes shape on the site of the old market bringing in further footfall and vibrancy.
Last year, supported by councillors from across all parties, we agreed to create a £100m investment fund to boost town centre regeneration.
We have already begun to use this money to buy land or property to support economic and housing development within town centres that will secure their long-term viability and encourage inward investment or skills development.
We’ve got to be able to move fast, react to opportunities as they arise and above all be bold if we are to achieve the sort of transformational change we want to see in our town centre and across our borough.
Putting up these funds is the clearest possible signal of intent. We want to encourage investment in our borough from businesses who share our broad aspirations to develop Basildon as a borough that provides opportunities for all our residents to thrive.
It is incredibly exciting this council is reviving the ambition and determination shown to create Basildon new town 71 years ago, to build the next generation Basildon.
Our Town Centre Revival Committee recently considered a new masterplan for Basildon town centre that sets our vision and a delivery plan to achieve it. This will go to public consultation at the start of June making the most of innovative online engagement in lieu of the normal face-to-face work we would have done pre-coronavirus.
The new masterplan will guide the centre through the next 15 years and provide a framework for constructive relationships with developers.
This will be the start of the next chapter of the Basildon story, building on successes and recognising and responding to changes in technology, the environment, economy and demography.
It’s not just about bricks and mortar, shop units, colleges and cinemas. My vision for Basildon’s future is as much about its cultural growth as its economic and physical transformation. We are part of a consortium which, last year, was awarded more than £1.2m over four years from Arts Council England as part of creative people and places funding.
Here in Basildon we are so proud of our cultural heritage and are delighted to be working in partnership with so many fantastic organisations and businesses to secure a legacy for our town that will be secured through this four-year funding. Basildon wouldn’t be what it is without its people and rich cultural identity, which I want to see grow and flourish in the wake of the town’s revival.
All these elements can work together to really deliver a place that will work for everyone on many different levels.
I’ve been blown away by the commercial interest we have had in Basildon town centre and, despite the current incredibly challenging circumstances, continue to believe we can achieve great things in Basildon.
Cllr Gavin Callaghan is leader of Basildon Council