Recreational development 1969

Feasibility report on the recreational development of Canvey Island, Essex

The following was passed to us by Ray Howard, It is a feasibility report into proposed recreational facilities on the island in 1969 when the island was still run by Canvey Island Urban District Council. It is interesting to see what was proposed and how it all changed when we were amalgamated. (See maps in the gallery below)

The council’s wish that the swimming pool and sports halls be considered as priority items has been treated as of prime importance and has influenced our choice of sites to a large extent.

With this in mind we have examined the location of the major indoor sports activities as a separate though interdependent issue from that of the outdoor pursuits and games, and the logic of this approach will be evident later in this report. It was the Council’s wish that we should advise specifically on the siting of the new indoor swimming pool and upon the desirability of its being allied with the sports halls and other ancillary spaces. There can be no doubt of the need for these indoor sporting activities to be accommodated under one roof and the advantages can be summarised as follows: —

a. Ease of management
b. Sharing of basic facilities, i.e. refreshment areas, club rooms, some changing accommodation etc.
c. A reduction in overall capital and running cost by such a combination.
d. The generating of interest in other pursuits in those visiting the sports complex.

Having arrived at this conclusion, we then examined the alternative sites where such a’building might be sited. These were:—

a. Leigh Beck Park
b. 2 Sites flanking the casino
c. A site on the Eastern Esplanade flanked by Weel road.
d. The Paddocks.
e. The Small Gains/Newlands Area.
f. Waterside Farm
g. King Georges Field.
These are all noted on the drawing opposite.

To examine these in detail:—

A relatively narrow piece of land with one short side fronting the esplanade. There is a football pitch leased to Canvey Football Club who have built a small stand and dressing rooms etc. Because of its size, shape and geographical location away from the centroid of population it is felt that this site does not warrant serious consideration for the sports complex despite the good access facilities.

Additionally the parking of large numbers of cars so close to an area attractive to day visitors is likely to cause a problem of traffic congestion.

These two sites have good access and are reasonably centred on the island however they are in an area which generates a fair amount of visitors traffic and it was felt that the shape of the eastern area and the road-bound nature of that of the west would make them unsuitable for the sports complex.

Furthermore it was felt that the buildings and spaces under discussion were not essentially connected with this riverside situation whereas a need might arise later where this might be an essential factor in any project under discussion.

This site has similar deficiencies to Leigh Beck Park.

The Council’s intended development of this site with a new community centre made it immediately attractive for the adjacent siting of a sports complex as this would mean that certain common facilities could be shared. However there are likely to be serious objections to any further building here from the Essex County Planning Officer and in any event it would be difficult to provide the necessary outdoor pitches associated with the sports building after other needs have been satisfied.

Within this very large area there is obviously plenty of room for the indoor sports building and its associated outdoor activities but the ground bearing capacity is very poor and in any eventthis site does lend itself to development of a rather different nature which will be discussed later in the report. Also the daytime use of the complex by schools should not be forgotten and this area is remote from the majority of existing or proposed schools.

The opening up of this area for any concentrated use is dependent upon good access being available immediately. Such access is proposed at some unspecified future date but at present the only part of the 230 acres which is readily approachable by vehicles is that adjacent to the Canvey Road and surrounding the existing farm buildings. Other parts of Waterside Farm are only approachable by narrow residential roads and at the eastern area by surmounting the secondary sea defence wall. It is certain that such an access would not be satisfactory, especially as it is not known when the situation might be improved. If the farm area is considered in two parts, eastern and western, we find the following: —

  1. The eastern portion has poor load bearing qualities and is exposed to the hazard of periodical flooding. To deal with these two factors alone would involve considerable expenditure. In addition a considerable length of access road would be necessary together with very long connections to the public utilities. These essential items would consume a considerable amount of the limited funds which the Council has available for this project.
  1. In the west the farm site is contiguous with the proposed Vermuyden comprehensive school. Current proposals before the Department of Education and Science show that this school is intended to grow to 8 form entry at some future time but immediate expenditure is limited to a 3 form entry instalment which is in the D.E.S. programme for 1970/71 i.e. a probable site start in the spring of 1971.
  1. In its preliminary report to your Council the Eastern Sports Council recommended that the indoor swimming pool should be sited close to this school and later that the sports hall and other ancillaries should be attached to the pool. This is a circuitous way of saying that there should be a major sports complex with which we agree and additionally that this should be adjacent to Vermuyden School.

In this latter aspect we cannot agree with the E.S.C. although we can understand that their proposal was prompted by current national policy which is for expensive capital facilities to be used for joint public and educational use wherever possible. In this instance we feel that although joint use should still be possible the immediacy of access to Vermuyden school is not of paramount importance nor in the best interests of the bulk of the inhabitants of Canvey Island for the following reasons:—

a. Again vehicular access is poor.

b. Even with the development of the Winter Gardens area by private developers over the next 10 years the centre of gravity of the island population will still be around the existing main shopping zone at Furtherwick. This site adjacent to Vermuyden School cannot be considered as geographically convenient for the bulk of the island population nor would it be very convenient for most of the island schools. It should be remembered that swimming in particular is very popular with quite young children who in many instances would have long journeys from the other end of the island. It is probable that their journeys by bus would cost more than admission to the sports building and in the case of the very young who cannot travel alone would mean that a parent could not leave the child at the sports centre whilst conveniently continuing the shopping as other public facilities are remote from this area.

c. Whilst current policy accepts that this school should eventually increase to 8 F.E. there can never be any guarantee that this will happen until:

  1. Further instalments are included in the funding allocations of a central govern­ment financial year.
  2. Satisfactory tenders for these instalments are accepted by the D.E.S.

Subsequent changes of policy might dictate that another school on the mainland be reinforced to serve the needs of Canvey with children collected by contract bus as happens elsewhere in the country. In such an event the indoor sports provision of the island would be even more wrongly sited than ever and would be serving a privileged minority school user in a corner of the island relatively distant from other potential school and public users.

d. If sited here it is improbable that the DES would allow the Essex Education Authority to build its own sports hall which is scheduled for a future instalment. It is also unlikely that current finance would be forthcoming for the County Council to share part of the cost of the sports hall with Canvey UDC as has been discussed in the past and worse still should such a sharing be possible disagreement about the running of the complex could delay its start until after the demise of Canvey UDC, if this be a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Local Government. Should this happen any assets held by the Council could well be spent elsewhere within the boundaries of any new local authority and not benefit Canvey in any way.

The field is currently used for team games, tennis and bowls and has a substantial pavilion with dressing rooms and other facilities. In our opinion this site has many ad­vantages which clearly indicate that any sports complex on Canvey should be sited here. These are as follows: —

a. Central position for the public and all island schools.

b. Good access with adjacent public transport.

c. Adequate parking space both on site and elsewhere nearby.

d. Near to the proposed community centre so that certain facilities may be managed jointly.

e. Near the river front so that casual visitors may be attracted readily in the event of bad weather.

f. Good level site with all main services.

g. Ample space to separate the buildings from adjacent house owners and for the pro-vision of outside hard pitches and other sports spaces.

We recommend that any new sports complex be sited on King Georges Field and the next part of the report deals with this proposal in rather more detail.

The present King Georges Field contains 3 soccer pitches, a cricket table, 6 tennis courts and a bowling green. These in turn are served by a brick pavilion housing 4 dressing rooms showers & lavatories, a committee room and a room for badminton and table tennis.

By siting a building of approximately 240’0″ x 120’0″ as shown on the layout plan opposite, it is possible to retain most of these features, the only casualty being one of the soccer pitches.

The playing areas are further reinforced by a hard porous all weather pitch which will be particularly valuable here in view of the very soggy nature of much of the field during winter. The three tennis courts lost by the siting of the building can be replaced alongside the three that remain and a cricket pavilion overlooking the cricket field can be housed on the lower floor of the new sports building. The suggested sitings of the new building and the hard playing area have been carefully chosen to give the most neighbourly solution to ad­joining owners. The existing bowling green can be retained if required and a larger car park provided, alternatively a larger green can be laid out in front of the existing pavilion which in turn could be extended to provide club rooms, craft rooms and workshops.

The car park area shown has space for 70-80 cars with a preferred one-way flow from Hawthorn Road to Poplar Road to reduce the amount of turning traffic along a short length of Furtherwick Road.This we feel is an adequate basis number of spaces bearing in mind the good adjacent public car parking at Oak Road and elsewhere, however as stated earlier this number of spaces can be increased by either omitting the new bowling green and/or by using other space adjacent to the new tennis courts.

The general development of the sports building could be as outlined on the adjoining plan, i.e. with a 2-court sports hall at the western end and the swimming hall at the eastern with 3 levels of accommodation in the centre. The lower level would serve the sports halls with changing rooms, showers etc. and the associated activities such as weightlifting and judo will also be here; a 25 yard small bore and archery range can probably be included too.

From this level there would be covered access to the squash courts which flank the existing tennis courts and should squash prove popular on the island which is very probable, then this building can be extended as required along the length of the tennis court with upper level gallery viewing of both squash and tennis. It is preferable that squash courts be kept separate in this way because their awkward shape and dimensions do not fit economically into a regular building form, also as they require no heating, proximity to central services is not essential.

The first floor of the centre section would house the swimming changing area leading directly into the pool hall which is at the same level with plant space below. Opposite the changing space is an open social area overlooking the sports hall with cafeteria provision.

The second floor is a large free area overlooking both the sports hall and the swimming pools and is capable of any desired sub-division for club rooms, bars, administrative offices and general free activity spaces.

The gross area of such a building would be approximately 60,000 square feet which, together with the two squash courts and extensions to the pavilion, should be possible around the figure of £300,000 indicated in our briefing note of 13th December, 1968.


The report of the Eastern Sports Council suggests that these activities of a more casual nature should take place on the Waterside Farm site and to the north of the proposed new link road and we would support this suggestion. As stated earlier vehicular access to the area is limited to the western extremity along the Canvey Road and this gives the key to the development of the farm site i.e. that activities should increase in casualness as one moves in an eastward direction across the site.

Of the present farm buildings only the house and a former cowshed appear worthy of retention and it should be stated that it was not possible to inspect the interior of the house due to the presence within of a fierce guard dog. However from external examination it appears that this building could form the basis of a golf clubhouse whilst the cowshed would lend itself to conversion to garages and workshops. Water and electricity are available and once the derelict buildings are removed the site is capable of an interesting development as a centre for golf, archery, horse-riding, motor cycle and kart racing and some pitch games.

The map opposite shows how this can be done, and a 9 hole golf course of approx­imately 52 acres has been shown for the first stage extending to 18 holes later if required. When the new road is eventually built these would be connected by a footbridge. There would seem to be no need for acquiring the site between Waterside Farm and the Vermuyden School.

The land between the club house and the creek is presently used by the local motor cycle club for ad hoc events and the area should be developed to increase the size and scope of these meetings and also include go-kart racing. Additionally the strip of land extending eastwards can be laid out with suitable hazards to attract motor cycle scrambling enthusiasts but this activity should not be allowed to penetrate into the extreme eastern area.

The area of about 11 acres relatively near to the club house is suitable for equestrian events and suitably hedged and screened could prove an attractive proposition on a franchise basis to the riding school proprietors of the area.

The extreme eastern end of the Waterside Farm site is lonely and remote and should remain so. This area can form the extreme point of pony trekking routes and is eminently suitable for walking, birdwatching and just being alone. The absence of a suitable vehicular access guarantees this blessed state indefinitely.

Three additional playing pitches for western Canvey can be laid out to the south of the club house where adequate changing facilities can be provided.

The area for the extension of the golf course is capable of immediate development as a grassed playing area to provide additional pitches until such time as others are created as suggested elsewhere in this report. Only part of the area need be laid out as formal pitches with suitable temporary changing accommodation, the remainder would be available as general play space until such time that it might be required for inclusion in the enlarged golf course.

The siting of clay pigeon shooting within the area has been examined and rejected for the following reasons: —

  1. Near the clubhouse the noise would be unacceptable particularly when horses were in the vicinity.
  2. At the eastern end as suggested in the E.S.C. report the noise would seriously detract from the solitary quiet activities which the absence of vehicles suggests. This same lack of vehicular route makes access with ammunition and the clays somewhat of an ordeal involving a half-mile hike across the sea wall with heavy loads.

Accordingly an alternative permanent site is suggested later in this report, however it would be possible to have a temporary shoot at the eastern end despite the inconvenience to the marksmen and the walkers pending the creation of the permanent range which is likely to take some time.

Similarly the difficulties of access coupled with the limited tidal periods available has led us to believe that Waterside Farm is not the best site for sailing even if the Benfleet Club is intending to develop on the adjacent saltings. Our alternative siting is contained in the next part of the report.

    This in an interesting piece of land and capable of development in a most exciting way. The long thin southern extremity is reasonably level and sheltered and suggests itself for development for pitch games, however these should not be laid out in endless rows as at Hackney Marsh but should be interspersed with ground shaping and shrub and tree planting to give visual interest. The eastern extremity of this part of the site is divided from Small-gains Creek only by the seawall and was originally part of the same watercourse. It would be simple to reintroduce the excitement of water to this area and create a shallow lagoon for sailing model boats and where “pedalo” and other small boats might be hired.

The squarer north eastern piece of land is currently being tipped and its eventual level will be 10 feet or so below the sea wall. Once again the ground surface can be modelled, additional pitches could be formed if the need is proved, and a variety of pastimes provided, one after the other, once interest is stimulated in the area.

With the proximity of the holiday camp with a high turnover rate of summer visitors seeking diversion the area will probably support miniature golf, bowls, more tennis and possibly a miniature railway. Furthermore as this piece of land is not bounded by a resident­ial area it is an ideal site for the flying of petrol engined model aircraft.

In short the Smallgains area would become a pleasant landscaped park, a more urban alternative to the Waterside Farm site where people can play, walk or exercise their dogs with the constant stimulus of the visitors to Newlands Holiday Camp. Moreover with the develop­ment of the High Street shopping precinct it would serve as a play area for children whose parents are carrying out the weekend shopping using the family car to deposit and collect the children at the park. It might be that once the park is established it could become the centre for a summer fair or circus, an annual event during the holiday season.

Lastly the sites for sailing and clay pigeon shooting. Just as the Smallgains park site has been created by the controlled tipping of domestic refuse it should be possible to reclaim an area beyond the sea wall to create a marina nearer to the deep water which will guarantee more sailing hours for the yachtsman. This will clearly need the sanction of the Port of London and Essex River Authorities but any efforts will be worthwhile to achieve the setting up of such a facility. This will mean that the sailors at Benfleet, The Island Yacht Club and the new marina will be reasonably spaced over the available water, thus avoiding much of the congestion experienced in less favoured areas.

A promontory of the area around the marina can then be set aside for the use of the clay pigeon shooters thus keeping the nuisance effect of this sport away from both residential areas and those seeking quiet and solitude.

The map opposite this page shows the proposed development of the area.

We recommend:

That the major elements of indoor sport, i.e. swimming pool, sports hall etc. should be collected together into one comprehensive building or sports com­plex.

That this complex would best be sited on the King Georges Playing Field.

That Waterside Farm be developed for outdoor pursuits of an informal nature i.e. riding, golf, motor cycling, karting and walking, with a small number of pitch games and that the area of the present farm buildings be used as the site of any necessary club houses, garaging and changing facilities.

That the land at Smallgains Creek be developed as a more urban park to serve Canvey and the visitors at Newlands Holiday Camp with recreational activities for all age groups.

That once this area has been completely tipped and reclaimed tipping should be extended to the mud flats beyond to create a marina adjacent to the deeper water of Hadleigh Ray so that the yacht moorings might be approachable at more stages of the tides and that a promontory should be created especially for the safe use of the clay pigeon shooting enthusiasts of the area.

Comments about this page

  • How interesting! How exciting would it have been if it had all come to fruition, although I’m not sure how it would have been financed. The developments would have made Canvey a major sports attraction.

    By Maureen Buckmaster (12/09/2020)

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