Southend Tory councillor Brian Kelly at Priory Crescent — he was “delighted” with approval for it to be widened to a dual carriageway
A GOVERNMENT inspector has finally backed a controversial road widening scheme next to Southend’s Priory Park, putting an end to five years of debate and acrimonious protests.
Allan Blackley approved proposals for an £8million dual-carriageway to tackle the notorious bottleneck in Priory Crescent.
Mr Blackley, who held the public inquiry last March, said in his report: “There is no realistic alternative and doing nothing is not a credible option.”
Southend Council leader Howard Briggs said: “The council has been exonerated in every way by the inspector.”
Brian Kelly, cabinet member for transport, said he was delighted.
But today campaigners pledged to fight on to save more than 100 trees threatened as part of the plan.
Shaun Qureshi, of action group Parklife, said action like treetop protests could not be ruled out.
He said: “We have protested against any development in or around Pirory Park for the past four years and we will see it through to the bitter end. People can make of that what they want.”
SOUTHEND councillors were today jubilant after a controversial dual-carriageway near Priory Park was finally backed by a Government inspector.
The multi-million pound scheme was at the centre of bitter protests for five years until a public inquiry last March.
In his report, Government inspector Allan Blackley has now agreed the scheme, designed to end the bottleneck at Priory Crescent which causes severe congestion for thousands of motorists.
The council is now waiting for £8million in local transport plan funding from Government coffers for Priroy Crescent. This is the only section of the A13 [they mean A127, but it's actually the A1159] from Southend to London that isn’t a dual-carriageway.
It is likely that more than 100 trees from Priory Crescent and nearby public land will be lost as part of the scheme.
A delighted Southend Council leader Howard Briggs said: “The council has been exonerated in every way by the inspector.
“He has made it clear in his findings there is no other reasonable alternative to solve the problems in Priory Crescent.”
He added the inspector has made clear the shceme will not have an impact on Priory Park and is completely acceptable in the terms of the charitable trust under which the council holds the park.
Mr Briggs said: “The inspector also said the objectors were confused in their suggestions.
“On one hand they were saying that the widening of Priory Crescent was unnecessary and then they were saying the council’s proposals would not solve the problem in any case.
“The inspector said none of the proposals which were put forward as possible alternatives were suitable and would not solve the difficulties.
“The report has totally vindicated the council and the actions taken.
“It also shows both the inspector and the minister believe the criticism the council has suffered because of this scheme was totally unfounded.
“The widening of Priory Crescent will be good news for the town and for its residents and will help to solve the major traffic congestion which exists in Southend.
Cabinet member in charge of transport Brian Kelly said: “Naturally, I am delighted by the news.
“The fact that the report says there is no realistic alternative shows the council was correct in every decision which they have taken on this issue.”
Former mayor Charles Latham was leader of the council at the time when the project was first mooted and the current mayor Roger Weaver was the executive councillor for transport.
Both of them became the target of protesters in a highly charged and personalised campaign.
Mr Weaver said he was pleased for the town that the Priory Crecent shceme had been given the go-ahead.
He said: “This will make life better for residents and businesses in Southend, but it is important the work on Cuckoo Corner is completed at the same time as the widening.”
Mr Latham added that a great deal of work had gone into making sure the best possible way of dealing with the problem had been achieved.
THE debate over a new dual-carriageway in Priory Crescent has been the longest and most bitter in Southend’s history.
Although the scheme was included in the council’s transport plan in the 1990s, the full impact was not appreciated by many people until firm plans were put forward in 2000.
These would have cut through Priory Park itself and bitter opposition against then council leader Charles Latham and executive councillor for transport, Roger Weaver, built up among environmental campaigners.
In an effort to try and stem the rising tide of opposition, Mr Latham and Mr Weaver walked the entire road to try and find a compromise and even considered a one-way system around Priory Park.
Even after a vicious election campaign, none were elected and the Tory majority on the council was strengthened.
Protesters issued yellow ribbons which could be seen on cars around town, and posters urging “Save Priory Park” were to be seen everywhere in Southend.
Protests were staged on trees under threat in and around the park and for one council meeting, opponents of the scheme planned to appear as a “moving forest” against the scheme.
Unfortunately for them, the meeting had started early and was virtually over before they arrived.
Last March’s public inquiry into the scheme took almost a month to complete. When it began the inspector was critical of the council over the presentation of its case.
Protesters took heart but as it progressed further, it seemed the inspector became annoyed by the repetition of arguments from some of those opposed to the plan.
At the end of the day, and after nearly a year of waiting, the council has won.
However, but it is doubtful that this will be the end of opposition. It is likely there will more protests in the next few months until the road is finally built.
Slice of land — part of Lookers forecourt will go under the widening scheme
CAMPAIGNER Shaun Qureshi refused to rule out taking direct action to stop more than 100 trees around Priory Park being torn down.
Shaun, spokesman for the Parklife protest group which has always opposed any development around Priory Park, is planning what to do next after the public inquiry allowed the road expansion to go ahead.
He said: “Well, Southend Council has finally got its wicked way after the public inquiry simply rubber stamped its plans for Priory Park.
“We have protested against any development in or around Priory Park for the past four years and we can say that we will see it through to the bitter endd *mdash; people can make of that what they want.
“I don’t want to say exactly what we are planning to do as there are still options open to us and we would want to explore them thoroughly.
“However, any appeal against this decision would cost thousands of pounds and for a group like us that kind of funding is only a dream.
“What are future generations going to think about what the council has done here, when people ask about the tomb of the Saxon King? What are we going to say?
“We will have to tell them that Southend Council decided that concreting 3,000sq m of greenery was more important than a site that has been hailed the biggest archaeological find in the past 60 years. During the inquiry we were told that 95 per cent of public inquiries go in favour of the development, but if there was ever a case for one of the five percent that doesn’t get approval I believe it was Priory Park.
“I would like to thank all the groups that have been involved in this protest for the past four years and say well done to everyone who has helped in this campaign.”
South East Essex Green Party representative, Irene Willis, urged residens of Southend to watch out for when the development starts.
She said: “When people hear the bulldozers start up, they should rush down to protect the 113 wonderful trees around the park.
“We’ve been involved in opposing this scheme since it began and it’s totally ridiculous to save just 2 minutes 40 seconds of journey times at the cost of £10million.
“It will also cut down all those trees just so the Government can bost it has a dual carriageway from London to Shoebury.
“It’s a total waste of money and I hope the people of Southend rise up and rebel by being there to stop the trees being cut down.
“This is the most stupid thing I’ve ever been involved in opposing.
“If we had a Green Government none of this would happen.”
Chairman of the Priory Park Presevation Society, Peter Walker, said he was disappointed the decision had been made but was still studying the full content of the inspector’s report.
He added: “At a look of part of the report, it says clearly the work must be carried out under the eisting budget and I would like to know how the extra costs will be financed.
“It does not seem clear at the moment whether the Government has agreed with the funding.”
PEOPLE visiting Priory Park reacted with dismay when they heard the news that Southend Council will press ahead with plans to bulldoze 113 trees in Priory Crescent as part of the scheme.
Dean McCarthy, 20, of Salisbury Avenue, Westcliff, said: “I really like the trees around here.
“It is a really pleasant place to walk the dog or just come for a stroll.
“I don’t like the fact that the trees will be chopped down, but I can see that something needs to be done about congestion.
“They should look harder for another solution.’
Amanda Rose, 35, of Seaforth Avenue, Westcliff, said “It is outrageous they can be allowed to cut down the trees.
“I have a baby and a dog so it is reat to be able to come to the park for a day out to give them both some fresh air and take in what little nature we have around here.
“It is a real shame and should not be allowed to happen.”
Gary MacDonald, 43, of Guildford Road, Southend, said “I walk my dog here very day and I certainly don’t agree with any plans to chop down the trees.
“It is not going to make a real difference to the traffic because the lights at the roundabout cause slow traffic.”
Grace MacDonald, 76, of Guildford Road, Southend, said “This is a disgrace.
“What about the tomb of the Saxon King?
“The council went on that it was so important — now they want to bury it under concrete. It’s just disgraceful!”