Well now! This news may cause gasps of incredulity, if not extreme mirth, among the chattering property classes ("you're 'aving a larf!!" might be the response) and to old Thames Gateway lags like me, and several of my old codgers. But actually, it should come as no surprise at all.
When the Gateway began to get rolling seriously as part of the Prescott Sustainable Communities Plan (remember? It is less than a decade since), Southend was the recipient of the largest slug of ODPM money, helping to fund a new university campus in the town centre, a new link from the town centre to the seaside and the resort side of town, and various other bits and pieces to help rebuild it as a commercial location and attractive local and regional centre.
I understand that funding Southend in this way was controversial within ODPM. There was no obvious immediate giant housing dividend, and anyway wasn't funding new colleges the job of DfES? (Pause for hollow laughter). But what the Gateway team of the time (led by the late and irreplaceable John Sienkiewicz, aided and abetted by the aforementioned Ralph Ward) understood was that regeneration, in an unliveable and unlovable place like the Gateway, had initially to be about building a sense of quality and identity. Get that right, and the housing would follow. This is a lesson that has been lost on the less clever regenerators and bureaucrats who have since followed, in the Gateway and elsewhere, where master-plans for vast housing developments, dumped into what are still no-hoper locations in terms of identity or demand, gather dust.
Today, the college is an academic success, the airport is now open, and Southend is a place which is in demand. Whisper it quietly, but Southend is actually a Gateway success.