THE man who faced the bulk of the protests against the widening of Priory Crescent has accused Southend Council of "taking a backward step" by watering down their plans.
Former mayor Roger Weaver was cabinet member in charge of roads in 2003, when there were large protests at council meetings over the plans for the gridlocked road.
He later left the Conservative Party to join the independent Alliance Southend group on the council and eventually stood down at last month's elections.
Mr Weaver said he believed the council had been weak by deciding to dual the road only from Cuckoo Corner to the Lookers garage site, even if it did come with the lower price tag of £10.8million.
He said: "I think it is a backward step, as the arguments had been won (at the public inquiry) and the majority of the public in the town were in support of the scheme.
"From what I have seen of these proposals so far, I cannot see there is any value for money in them at all.
"I would have liked the council to have continued to press for the whole scheme to be completed.
"I don't think this will do any good at all to the traffic problems in the east of Southend."
Mr Weaver said there had originally been talk of keeping the site of the grave of the Saxon King, but there was no longer anything there to protect - a fact he claimed had been confirmed by archaeologists.
He added: "Certainly nothing of value remains on the site and I seem to remember hearing the protesters had dug tunnels into it."
Mr Weaver said it had also been agreed by the cabinet that there should be no major new developments of either homes or busineses in the area without the road being made a dual carriageway throughout.
He said: "It seems they are now prepared to renege on this decision."
SOUTHEND Council's decision to safeguard the Saxon king's burial site at Priory Park has done little to dampen the campaigning spirit of environmental protesters.
Shaun Qureshi, member of campaign group Parklife, said he believed the scaling back of the dual carriageway plans was a poor attempt to silence public criticism.
Parklife, the Priory Park Preservation Society and Camp Bling residents - who set up on the burial site to protect it - have agreed to reject the council's new plans for the road.
Mr Qureshi said: "Newly-elected council leader Nigel Holdcroft had the opportunity to do the right thing for all concerned against the road, but has managed to do half a job by cancelling only half the scheme.
"We now have a situation where both Mr Holdcroft and ousted ex-council leader Anna Waite have developed a plan to spend £10.8million - still over three times the cost originally agreed with central Government - to build half a road that was clearly not going to work in the first place. Even when considering the track record of the local authority over the past six years on this issue, this takes some beating. We are sure the people who have supported the campaign so magnificently will see through this cynical ploy to neutralise local concerns."
Mr Qureshi said despite the concession to the Saxon king burial ground, Priory Park still remained under threat from the plan, as 47 mature trees would be lost along Priory Crescent to allow for the road widening.
He said: "We have always been opposed to the widening of Priory Crescent, either in part or in full. Though we have yet to see the full detail for the scheme, any widening will still have impacts on Priory Park."
LABOUR councillors have claimed the Tories' backtracking was a victory for their consistent opposition to the Priory Crescent scheme.
Mike Royston, transport spokesman for the party on the council, said Labour had been "clear and forthright" in its condemnation of the project since its inception, and was the only group on the council to have opposed it the whole way.
He added: "This road widening would have been a complete waste of money, as well as being environmentally damaging, which is why I have always been opposed to it.
"My main regret is that, because of their obsession with this project, the Conservatives running Southend Council may have missed chances to deliver more practical transport improvements for the borough.
"We will be looking at the new proposals carefully to see if they are a genuinely sensible way forward."
SOUTHEND Council leader Nigel Holdcroft has denied Camp Bling protesters had any influence on the cabinet's decision to scale back the Priory Crescent project.
Mr Holdcroft said the plan had been devised because it was deemed to be the best option all round.
He told the Echo: "The presence of Camp Bling has not affected our decision. If this scheme meets their aspirations with regard to the burial ground, then so be it. I am not going to reject the only sensible compromise available to us simply because it also suits them.
"To do so would be a classic case of cutting off our nose to spite our face.
"I am also not prepared to waste substantial sums of council taxpayers' money by trying to forcibly evict them and then secure the site against re-entry."
Despite the criticisms of the new plan from opposition parties, business leaders and the public - who have inundated the Echo's website with comments - Mr Holdcroft maintained most residents were proud of the Saxon king and wanted to protect its historical significance.
He said: "It was, of course, discovered in the first place because of the preliminary road investigations.
"There remains the possibility of future excavation when funds are available and to find a suitable home for the finds reamains a central priority for the council.
"To commemorate the site with an appropriate artistic monument seems the appropriate way forward."
BUSINESS leaders have added their voices to the chorus of discontent over the new Priory Crescent plan.
John Clayton, chief executive of Essex Chambers of Commerce, criticised the council for years of inaction and for coming up with a compromise that would not do what it promised.
He said: "There will still be the problem of a single carriageway along much of the length of Priory Crescent.
"While the improvements at Cuckoo Corner will be welcome, I cannot see these proposals actually achieving anything.
"From the point of view of businesses in the town, I think the most important thing is that we would like to see something actually happening. There has been talk about widening Priory Crescent for years but when it comes down to it, nothing has actually happened on the ground."
Mike Gray, managing director of Dedman Property Services and a former director of regeneration firm Renaissance Southend, was equally concerned.
He said: "As far as I can see, what will happen is that you will finish up with the only bit of single carriageway road on the whole way from Shoeburyness to London.
"If we are just going to have a dual carriageway for a bit of the road, then we are not going to gain the benefits which were suggested by the original scheme."
BEFORE the campaigners of Camp Bling get too excited over their victory, they should look at paragraph three of the Conservative group's media statement.
The last two lines read: "...retaining the opportunity to improve the access to the east of the town."
This could mean that if the current shceme goes through and the traffic is jammed up outside Lookers, then the ruling group will find it necessary to complete the dual carriageway over the bridge.
If the campaigners trust the Conservatives not to do anything like this, then congratulations to them on a job well done.
Cllr RIC MORGAN
THE news that Southend Council has ordered a complete rethink of the controversial Priory Crescent widening scheme and slashed its costs in half has sparked a lively debate at echo-news.co.uk. Here are some of the comments that have been posted there.
Just because the improvement wont fix all the issues of congestion into Southend doesnt mean it shouldnt go ahead.
After all the Rayleigh Weir didnt solve all the problems but who would have said that we shouldnt have made that change.
Build the road, I care nothing for the "burial site" which is empty, nor the loss of a few of the trees which will be replaced anyway.
The park can afford to lose its fringe.
It was highly doubtful that the original scheme was going to do anything to improve the traffic flow on Priory Crescent. The new one definitely won't. It will, however, result in 47 trees being chopped down and something like £10m of tax payers' money being wasted.
As others have commented above, the traffic problems are created at the junctions, not the roads in between - and then, only at peak times. I was at Priory Crescent just after 2pm today (having my photo taken for this very story by an Echo photographer, in fact) and the traffic was flowing fine. It was only when the school run traffic started appearing at 3:30 that anyone was even having to slow down.
The solution is not to widen the road, but to reduce the number of vehicles using it. Just think what that £10m the Council wants to spend on 400m of road could do if it was spent on Southend's buses!
DENIS WALKER, Prittlewell
MIKE NEWTON, Shoeburyness
BRIAN, Thorpe Bay
R BURRILL, Southend
The simple fact is that the Tories have been defending the indefensible for years. I'd go so far as to say that no Labour councillor currently on Southend council has EVER supported this stupid idea.
IAN G, Southend
None of these things have been considered, so far as I can see - the road widening is the only scheme on the table - and they ought to be.
People like us - not just councillors and officials - ought to be encouraged to think up solutions like this, not solely roads-at-all-costs car solutions, but not anti-car either (we nearly all have one, even if we'd rather not). A mixed package would work, if we but had the courage to insist on one.
Why cant Priory Crescent be one way from Cuckoo corner to the railway bridge and one way from the bridge to the lights at the junction with Victoria ave/Fairfax Drive? This would ease congestion by providing two lanes each way and cheaper too AND save the trees, which are mature and replacement with saplings is not the same at all.
MAN IN THE SHED
This is a symptom of the rotten state of Southend Borough Council. Instead of doing what is right and standing by his guns about Priory Crescent, the leader has simply caved into pressure from Whitehall mandarins and protesters at Camp Bling AT THE EXPENSE of what most people in Southend want and need. I am disgusted by this council I really am. We have a chief executive who is inward looking and obsessed by things that happen within the council rather than actually providing the services to the people that matter. Now we have a leader who is willing to concede defeat a the behest of the Labour gvnt which, let's face it, doesn't really to invest in Tory Southend.
I do believe the road scheme would have worked. It would have eased the congestion at cuckoo corner but i accept it would push the problem onto the Bell. But this council has had TEN years while the scheme was considered to come with a tangible plan to dovetail with it to deal with those other junctions. Unfortunately we have an inward looking council led by a very poor chief executive and now a Leader who gives the impression of being strong but is, at the firs stroke, willing to roll over for the Labour government at the expense of the people he represents. Holdcroft should be ashamed of himself.
COUNCIL WORKER, Southend
The best idea all round would be to introduce a one way system around the park which would cost even less!
SHIRLEY SMITH, Southend
HOWEVER you could have a 6 lane highway from shoebury to cuckoo corner it would not make a difference as long as there are roundabouts at cuckoo corner and the bell.
I think there are going to be a few red faces once this scheme is completed and people are still queuing to come out of priory crescent - the only way to end this problem is an under or over pass.
If any of you travel into london on the new a13 you'll see how quickly you can now travel from dagenham to Mile End - get to Mile End and the jams start again because of the junctions nad lights.
Id like to sit down with someone from the council and have it explained to me how this be the end to any traffic jams, persaonally I think this road is more to do with getting traffic to the new stadium/shoppong centre, which is bizarre as there's not going to be enough car parking spaces!!