Hot Spot: Southend-on-Sea

Plans to regenerate the Thames Gateway could bring many more visitors to the pleasure pier, says Robert Liebman

If you've got it, flaunt it - then fix it, and flaunt it again. Built in 1889, Southend-on-Sea's pier was extended a decade later and lengthened a few more times until, at 1.34 miles, it was the world's longest pleasure pier.

If you don't fancy the walk, take the famous train. During its eventful lifetime, Southend pier caught fire several times, and in 1986 a wayward ship, the MV Kingsabbey, sliced through it, separating the Old Pier Head from the New. The boathouse was lost to the deep forever, but all that was salvageable was repaired.

Southend's popularity has ebbed and flowed, like its tides. With many parks in addition to the pier, the seaside amusements and the seven-mile seashore, the town has attracted more than five million visitors in good years. But in bad years it is lucky to lure half a million. Increasingly a London dormitory, it is within the Thames Gateway, central to the Government's affordable homes scheme.

Howard Randall of Essex-based Landmark Professional Homesearch says that because of these recent proposals to further regenerate and develop the Thames Gateway, "areas such as Southend-on-Sea will benefit vastly from enhanced public services and new residential and commercial areas. This can only improve prices in the area as a whole."

With a population of nearly 175,000, it is already among the South-east's larger urban centres. Randall says that Southend prices are already bucking the trend, increasing since the start of May.

According to Hometrack, flats and semi-detached house prices rose by one per cent whereas the whole of Essex dropped in price during the same period by 0.4 per cent. The number of buyers registering has increased by 10 per cent as against a slight drop for Essex.

According to Randall, Southend-on-Sea is doing well in part because its property values compare favourably against the City and other Essex towns: "Considering the fact that an average two-bedroom apartment in Canary Wharf will currently set you back about £300,000, a clear alternative would be to buy a new apartment in an area such as Southend-on-Sea for £120,000 and pocket the change. A one-bed flat that would cost about £65,000 here would cost about £120,000 in Brentwood."

With a good service on the Fenchurch Street train line, Southend's low prices are tempting people who live as well as work in the City to sell up, move to the seaside and commute.

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

The Southend Central line stops at Westcliff, Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea en route to Fenchurch Street, and Southend Victoria stops at Prittlewell and Liverpool Street. The journey takes about an hour. Southend Airport has flights to Jersey.

Shopping

Southend's two main shopping centres are Victoria Plaza and the Royals. Major shops include M&S, Littlewoods and Debenhams, and there are occasional French and Bavarian markets. Leigh Broadway and Hamlet Court Road in Westcliff have boutiques.

Entertainment

The Odeon cinema has eight screens. Live performances are held at the Palace Theatre, the 1,630-seat Cliffs Pavilion, and the smaller New Empire. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performs park concerts.

Sports

Facilities include the Southend Leisure and Tennis Centre, the Chase Sports and Fitness Centre, several swimming pools, two golf courses and a driving range, six bowling greens, equestrian centres and watersports.

Family fun

Sea Life has an aquarium and play centre. Kursall, Adventure Island and the vast Kids Kingdom offer rides and amusements.

Museums

The Central Museum specialises in local archaeology, wildlife and social history. Southend Museum has a Discovery Centre and Planetarium.

Events

The Southend Sailing Barge Match and Regatta is held on August bank holiday. Annual events include the airshow, London to Southend Classic Car Run, folk and jazz festivals and, starting this weekend, a carnival with seafront illuminations.

Prices

A one-bed ground-floor flat with communal garden and garage, £89,995; ERL. Penneck has flats to let, from £395pcm for a one-bed refurbished flat in Westcliff to £700pcm for a three-bed semi-detached bungalow in Daws Heath.

Southend

One mile from Southend centre: a three-bed period terrace with south-facing garden, £131,995; a five-bed three-reception terrace in Southchurch, £189,995; a two-bed detached bungalow with parking for four cars, £215,000. In Westcliff a half-mile from Southend centre, a one-bed flat with shared garden is £82,995 at Martin & Co.

Westcliff flats

Penneck is selling two two-bed flats with balconies in a modern block inWestcliff; £94,995 and £104,995. In a different block, a two-bed flat with 23-foot living room with views of the Thames and the pier is £227,500.

Westcliff houses

A three-bed, two-reception mid-terrace with conservatory , £139,000; a three/ four-bed detached with 70ft garden and garage on the Somerset Estate, £229,995; at Penneck.

New to view

Weston's waterside Hamilton Grange in Westcliff has underground parking and electronic gates. The two-bed flats are sold, but one-bed flats are still available from £160,000 (01792 434333).

Estate agents

ERL, 01702 525259; Landmark, Howard Randall, 01277 203999; Martin & Co, 01702 434516; Penneck, 01702 719191.

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