A number of Southend residents have contacted local government officials to complain after it emerged that more than 300 vacant beach huts along the South Essex coastline are being renovated to provide accommodation for Syrian refugees who are currently being evicted from French camps – humanitarian charities have praised the move. According to documents that have been seen by Southend News Network, the French government will be running a huge marketing campaign named ‘Plus Qu’une Jetée’ to promote tourism in Southend On Sea in return, with potential visitors encouraged to use new direct flights between Paris and London Southend Airport.
The Chief Reporter met with the French government official who is in charge of the groundbreaking initiative. Pierre De La Gauche, chairman of Plus Qu’une Jetée, said: ‘We approached local officials in Southend with a unique proposition, and we are delighted to say that they have now agreed to accommodate potentially thousands of refugees who are currently waiting in Calais by opening up their vast collection of disused beach huts. For every refugee who is relocated to Southend, we will allocate 10,000 Euros to a mass-media marketing campaign to encourage French people to visit Southend On Sea, and with the longest pleasure pier in the world and a direct flight route to Paris Charles De Gaulle airport they shouldn’t need much persuasion! It’s ‘Win-Win,’ or ‘Gagnez-Gagnez’ as we would say.’
However, while local tourism chiefs are excited about this massive boost to Southend’s profile abroad, many of the town’s residents have contacted us to say that they are ‘outraged’ at the decision. Nigel Wall, head of the Thorpe Bay Residents Board, said: ‘If the local council had any sense, they would be promoting the benefits of renting these buildings as a second home to local people and maintaining the right atmosphere for our thriving beach hut community. As far as I am concerned, I am already doing more than enough to support these refugees in their plight for a better life – I must have shared at least four different posts on Facebook yesterday.’
Ronald Crump owns Crump Fridge Magnets on Southend seafront, and he has already started a petition online to get the scheme scrapped before it has even started. Mr Crump said: ‘This is a dark, dark day for Southend On Sea. Before we know what has happened, thousands of foreigners will be descending on the town, and I have no idea how our existing infrastructure will cope. I am very concerned about the cultural differences as well – some of these people feel that smoking is acceptable at 12 years old and think that a baguette is an acceptable form of bread. How can they possibly think that this area could offer them a better way of life?’