L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

03 April 2007 Blog Home : April 2007 : Permalink

Frinton - A Town in Decline?

I doubt I shall be making this a regular feature, however, as I mentioned last week, standards of decorum and behaviour seem to be slipping in this refuge of the genteel retired. Fortunately I am pleased to say that while standards my be slipping they have yet to fall in any serious way, however there are cracks in the façade that could well indicate more serious problems.

Problem number 1 is not directly a Frinton problem. It seems that Essex boys from closer in to the big smoke have decided that it is a wicked jape to take the train to some place in the sticks such as Frinton and cause a certain amount of mayhem. Frinton is a favoured location because there is no one to check train tickets (so like that chap at the Gare du Nord they tend to avoid paying the full fare) and no local police station (it was shut a few years ago). Hence when the japesters show up there is no one in authority to catch them as they fare dodge, indulge in petty theft or cause (mostly minor) vandalism. I don't quite know what the solution is but one suspects that having an army of ticket inspectors getting on the appropriate train at Colchester would be a good start.
[Aside: My preferred solution for the vandals is fairly simple - stocks. Anyone caught vandalizing is sentenced to be placed in the stock for a certain period of time near the location of his crime - and in Frinton I think this would be particularly good. A few hours spent standing in the open air with the "invigorating" North wind howling past would probably convince these rowdies that they should think of other ways to have fun. Of course such a punishment would be illegal under all sorts of human rights conventions because the poor criminals would be publically shamed, would suffer physical discomfort and might even die of hypothermia but I reckon it would be more effective than any of the permitted punishments.]

Problem number 2 is the hollowing out of the commercial heart. Douglas Adams once wrote about the Shoe Event Horizon. Frinton has avoided that fate but instead seems to be approaching the charity shop event horizon at breakneck speed. If you combine charity shops with more nakedly commercial purveyors of antiques, bric-a-brac and 2nd hand tat you end up describing the contents of a good third of the establishments in Connaught Avenue - the main shopping street. You also note that a number of potential shops are vacant. The charity and vacant shop fronts are a clear sign that something is wrong with the commercial district. I'm told that the problem is the landlord(s) prefer(s) to keep the rents high rather than lower them and see more shops, however the result, IMO, is that ever fewer shoppers bother to visit the place meaning that ever more shops decide to call it a day or move. Of course part of the problem is the decline in the spending power of much of the customer base (i.e the pensioners) has declined thanks to someone nicking £5B per year from UK pension funds. Another possible reason is that the local shopkeepers prefer not to have large chain shops in the place as competitors. I can see their point but I'm not sure that the other shopkeepers on Connaught Avenue have really thought this one through as the lack of such a chain could be reducing the total number of shoppers significantly.

Problem number 3 is the amount of infill development. In the US one sees estates of McMansions put up - vast houses with a minimum of garden. In Frinton we are seeing much the same because existing gardens are being developed so that there are now two (or more) houses where once there was but one. It is not clear to me whether this is being done by pensioners who need the capital and don't need the garden, ruthless speculators or some other group of people, however it is a problem because it gradually detracts from the quality of the place. Perhaps worse, once such a development has occured it cannot easily be reversed because house prices are sufficiently high that no one can afford to buy three adjacent houses and knock two of them down. If you want space you would do better to buy a villa on the Riviera, the Dordogne or in Chiantishire and one suspects that this is precisely what the richer newly retired do. This of course feeds into problem #2 because it means that the disposable income of the inhabitants is lower than it otherwise would be.

All together we have a more serious problems than the developments that which caused amusement last week. The radio station is harmless, the "live heavy metal concert" was attended by local schoolchildren; it finished at about 10:30 and I observed parents showing up in their Chelsea tractors to take their offspring to bed.

Meanwhile, however, my father reported that Problem #1 was being resolved by a police presence at the railway station and a selection of young things being held in temporary custody before being put back on the train to London. I'm not sure why the constabulary decided to act last Friday but one suspects that local press coverage had a certain impact. Whether local press will help to resolve the other problems, those of over-development and lack of shopping, is rather less clear. Of course it is entirely possible that I am overstating things. Frinton still has some sort of a future as a family beach holiday destination, but just as Easyjet and Ryanair make it easy for retirees to go aborad they do the same for family holiday makers. Frinton has, I think, become just the destination of families looking for a day trip as there are very few B&B's, hotels, guest houses etc.for the visitors to stay in.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin