By JAMES OXLEY
GOLD paving would cost less than the controversial road widening scheme next to Priory Park in Southend, it was claimed today.
Costs for the controversial scheme have shot up from £3.5million to £27.5million.
Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary, believes the project could be the most expensive road scheme per metre in the world.
He spoke after receiving a written answer from Transport Secretary Alistair Darling which revealed the cost of widening the 870m section of Priory Crescent had spiralled to £27.5million, £31,609 per metre.
Mr Brake said: "It would be cheaper to pave it with gold. Clearly with an overrun of that magnitude it has got to be one of the most expensive road schemes in the world. It costs its weight in gold, but is worth its weight in sand."
Mr Brake, MP for Carshalton and and Wallington, said the initial estimated cost of the scheme in 1999 was £3.5million.
This means there has been a 687 per cent increase in costs, making it the scheme with the highest cost escalation nationally.
The project has won the backing of the Eastern Region Assembly and funding from the Government is awaited.
Kevin Robinson, leader of the Labour group on Southend Council, called for the project, designed to ease the traffic bottleneck at Cuckoo Corner, to be cancelled.
He said: "At that cost I am totally convinced it is not economically viable. It is not a particularly long piece of highway and Southend has other transport needs which need money spent on them."
David Garston, Tory executive councillor for a Sustainable Southend, questioned the figures produced by Mr Brake. He said he believed the cost of the scheme was currently running at £21million.
He said Priory Crescent needed to be widened as it was a key traffic route.
He said: "I think it is absolutely essential the scheme goes ahead. It is part of the Thames Gateway and with all the expansion in Shoebury going on, unless we do this the whole town will grind to a halt."
The road widening has been fiercely opposed by environmentalists who have set up a protest camp called Camp Bling in a bid to protect the remains of the Saxon King burial chamber found along Priory Crescent.
The campaigners have dug underground tunnels, built watchtowers and treehouses as they prepare for work to start.
Rebecca Lush, of Road Block, the national alliance against roadbuilding said: "It is time for the Government to put this unpopular scheme out of its misery, refuse funding, and encourage Southend Council to investigate sustainable transport options.
"The people of Southend deserve better than allowing its council to blow more than £27million on a useless and destructive road."
Read the PPPS's response