By EMMA THOMAS
SOUTHEND'S economy will suffer a major blow of council plans to reduce congestion at Cuckoo Corner are blocked by protesters, an MP has said.
Campaigers have set up next to the busy junction because of concerns road-widening work by Southend Council could be on a much longer stretch of road than they had agreed.
But James Duddridge, the Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East, said the council's work to reduce the bottleneck was essential for the town's prosperity as traffic in the area was putting off new businesses from setting up.
ANGRY protesters have accused Southend Council of betraying its promise to widen a shorter stretch of Priory Crescent.
On Sunday, they sprung into action and set up camp at the Cuckoo Corner junction following concerns about possible council work to 160 metres of the road rather than the agreed 20 metres.
Defiant former members of campaign groups Camp Bling and Saxon King in Priory Park have set up tents, shelters and colourful banners on the land saying they want to protect Priory Park from the bulldozers.
Former Camp Bling members said after a meeting with the council in April, they agreed to leave the site only if the works were limited to a 20-metre stretch of Priory Crescent by the junction.
The protesters said they have been shown plans and now believe 160 metres of road widening will go ahead, as far as the Prittle Brook Industrial Estate.
Campaigner Shaun Qureshi, 38, said: "We have been against any form of road widening.
"The concession we made was the council would widen just a 20-metre stretch.
"We had to make another concession, which was we agreed to leave and some trees would be felled.
"Our primary concern was what would happen on the whole of Priory Crescent, rather than just the corner which was to be widened.
"We kept our part of the bargain and the council hasn't."
The council strenuously denies breaking the agreement and deputy council leader John Lamb said widening will only take place next to the junction on the land where the protesters are based.
He said the removal of the 16 trees was essential to the scheme and condemned the protest.
Mr Lamb added: "We are aware a small number of people have gathered on Priory Crescent to protest against the scheme.>
"Peaceful protest is everybody's right ion a democratic society, but any action that hinders the progress of the scheme is not acceptable.
"The planned works will slash 400 hours a day from journey times experienced by motorists currently using the junction.
"We will be planting 32 trees as a result of the scheme."
COUNCIL plans to install traffic lights in place of the roundabout at Cuckoo Corner have been given the thumbs-down from neighbours, motorists and business owners alike.
Ian French, manager of Bike World, in Earls Hall Parade, travels into work along the A127 every day.
The 48-year-old said: "All the traffic lights will do is move the problem on to the next junction.
"They need a joined-up approach, looking at all the junctions in the town that cause problems."
Southend taxi driver Dave Clift believes Southend Council has missed a trick by not consulting road users and residents.
He said: "Turning this roundabout into traffic lights will cure diddly-squat. I think they are using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut."
Victoria Avenue resident Fay Morris, 49, said: "I drive regularly around Priory Crescent at peak times and yes, it crawls, but even if you speed that bit up we will still be getting stuck at the Bell pub junction.
"It's a waste of money and time."
Fellow Victoria Avenue resident Peter Jenkins, 73, added: "Long term, there has to be a bypass."
AN MP has blasted the new protests at Cuckoo Corner, calling the campsite a "blight on the landscape".
James Duddridge, the Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East, said council plans to improve the busy junction by widening the road would provide a lifeline to small businesses and it would be a "travesty" if thye were thwarted.
He added: "One of the biggest issues on the east of the town is getting better access.
"While I would much prefer a scheme that doesn't include trees being chopped down, the council has a sensible proposition where the trees are to be replaced.
"A compromise was reached where the road wasn't going to be around the burial site and the protesters seem to be reneging on that deal."
Mr Duddridge said congestion was putting off new businesses setting up and causing some of them to relocate, losing much needed jobs and investment in the town.
He added: "Speeding up the traffic in and out of the area will help rescue struggling businesses in Shoebury and help create job opportunities for people in the east of the town.
"We should be governed by directly-elected councillors, not by protesters.
"If the improvements do not go ahead, it will have a direct effect on the economy - it is a very serious issue.
"This was a bit of a lifeline which has been factored in by some businesses who have decided not to relocate. It is a small step in the right direction being thwarted by a bunch of individuals.
"This is misplaced, misguided and out of touch with the people of Southend."
SOUTHEND Council has denied it has backtracked on its agreement with the protesters at Cuckoo Corner.
John Lamb, Southend's councillor responsible for enterprise, tourism and regeneration, said the council was honouring the April agreement made with Camp Bling not to widen Priory Crescent into Priory Park.
Preliminary work to clear the site is due to start in the next few weeks and will involve 16 trees being removed as part of the scheme.
But the council has promised at least two trees will be planted for every one removed.
Full road widening work around the junction is due to start in June and aims to reduce congestion and allow traffic to flow more efficiently at peak times.
Mr Lamb said residents who will be directly affected by the scheme will be visited in person to have the work explained in detail.
He said: "We have stuck to the agreement we made with the Camp Bling protesters regarding the Cuckoo Corner scheme.
"Widening will only take place next to the junction in the space previously occupied by the two demolished houses, just as we agreed. The work will not impact on Priory Park itself or any of the trees within the park's boundaries."
Mr Lamb said the £5million scheme would improve the flow of traffic at one of the town's worst bottlenecks.
New cycle and pedestrian crossings are also being installed and the new junction area wil be landscaped.