PLANS to transform the beleaguered Warrior Square Gardens into a stunning European-style plaza have been unveiled to a chorus of approval.
The grand plans, boasting a water fountain, cafe, sculptures, plush paving and even a seasonal ice rink, were shown off to residents and visitors in Southend High Street for the first time on Saturday.
Crowds of people flocked to take a look at artists impressions of how the vandal-plagued green area, just off the High Street, could look if a multimillion-pound development of the site gets approval.
The proposals included the transformation of the under-used park in the centre of the Warrior Square residential area, into a lush, tree-lined public square complete with an eye-catching grand gateway, water features, play and lawn areas, and sculptured seating.
Seasonal events in the centre of the square, such as an outdoor ice rink at Christmas time and open-air film screenings during the summer, are also planned under the development, which could come to fruition within three to four years.
Giles Tofield, of Renaissance Southend - a private company founded to promote the regeneration of Southend - was on hand at a specially set up information booth in the High Street, to discuss the scheme with passers-by. He said: "The response we had from the public was amazing.
"Not only have residents of Warrior Square been coming out to view the plans, but town centre shoppers and people living in other parts of the town have been showing a great interest in the project as well."
The main motive for sprucing up the gardens is to attract more residents, families and day trippers to the town to use and enjoy the public area - one of the few green spaces remaining close to the town centre.
After years of neglect, the gardens have gained a reputation as a haven for drug takers, crowds of congregating teens and vandals.
However, it is hoped that small but significant details included in the plans, such as uplights being fixed to trees, high-quality paving and dog-proof fencing, will help keep the area free from antisocial behaviour.
The rejuvenation of the Warrior Square site is part of an overall masterplan by Renaissance Southend to revitalise the town.
An easy access link from the High Street to the square is also included in the plans.
Mr Tofield added: "The artist's impressions of how the gardens will look have been created from input gained by Warrior Square residents.
"Even though the impressions of the development have been welcomed by local residents and shoppers alike, the plans aren't fixed in stone yet.
"The display was about public consultation about the project."
Funding for the ambitious development project could come from a mixture of lottery cash, as well as private and public sector businesses and organisations.
Landscape architect James Munden, of London-based firm Whitelaw Turkington, which is responsible for the project design, said: "It's all about helping the public to get the most of the space and ideas such as the ice rink and open-air cinema are an example of this.
"There is so much potential for the site and we have to make sure we make the most of it."