Essex’s decision to end 105 years of tradition by scrapping the Southend Festival has met with criticism from the town’s authorities. The county’s general committee decided to draw stumps on the Garon Park venue with the traditional five days of cricket being transferred to Chelmsford and leaving Colchester as the last surviving festival outpost in Essex.
Southend’s venue was switched from the seafront location at Southchurch Park eight years ago after continued vandalism at that ground, plus complaints from residents there regarding the cricket week. Eager to maintain a Southend link, the county moved a mile and a half inland to the newly-built Garon Park but the soulless surroundings there failed to attract the required levels of support from either members or casual followers.
With the high cost of setting up a festival, in return for a modest financial return, Essex have now opted to send the Southend week the way of the festival week that was also at one time staged at nearby Westcliff.
An Essex statement said: “The committee considered very robust and persuasive arguments in favour of continuing, but decided on balance that in the interest of its members the club would be better served by staging the matches at Chelmsford next year.”
Chief executive David East added: “The door has certainly not been closed on future festival cricket in the south of the county, but at this time the club committee felt that our focus should be at Chelmsford.
“There is a huge amount of work ongoing at Garon Park, particularly with the development of our centre of excellence and the proposed new community facilities. We remain fully supportive of the project to improve and grow the community facilities at Garon Park, and the fulfilment of these plans may open the door for future first-class cricket at the ground.”
Essex chairman Nigel Hilliard also added: “Over the last three weeks we have conducted an in-depth review of the background and status of our festivals and have received considerable feedback from our members and other stakeholders. These were fully taken into account before making this decision, and as part of this review the club agreed to continue with its festival week at Castle Park in Colchester for 2012.”
Southend Council, though, are urging Essex to think again over the decision to axe Southend week from the first-class fixture list. Derek Jarvis, the borough council cabinet member for culture and tourism, said: “This long-established event is a treasured part of Southend’s sporting calendar and I urge Essex County Cricket Club to reconsider the matter immediately.
“The general committee said that it had decided on balance that the interests of its members were best served by moving the festival to Chelmsford. But I can’t see how that can be true bearing in mind how many of its members from the south of the county will be deeply disappointed by this decision.”
Jarvis also claimed that the Southend Festival has been more profitable than its Colchester counterpart. “The profit made by the festival from 2008 to 2011 was around £60,000 – this compares with a small loss at the Colchester festival over the same period,” he said. “The umpires regularly give good marks for the wicket at Garon Park so there are no significant cricketing reasons why the festival should not continue.”