By JAMES OXLEY
THE spiralling cost of a road widening scheme next to Southend's Priory Park should force a fresh debate over the project's future, it was claimed today.
Southend Council revealed the estimated cost of duelling the proposed 870m section of Priory Crescent has reached £20.5million - not the £27million the department of transport mistakenly claimed.
However, this lower estimate still works out at a whopping £23,571 for every metre of the road widened.
After years of bitter struggle by road protesters a Government inspector finally gave the green light to the project in February last year following a public inquiry.
However, at that time the scheme was only estimated to cost £8million. That figure had increased from a predicted cost of £3.5million in 1999.
Kevin Robinson, Labour leader on Southend Council, has called for the decision to be looked at again. He said: "I challenge them to have a rethink to see if Priory Crescent really does meet the town's needs. It is too much money for that road."
He added: "At £20million I am convinced it is not economically or environmentally viable.
"If we decide as a town we don't want to spend £20million on a piece of dual carriageway we need to sit down and think about what we really need."
Murray Foster, the council's executive councillor for Future Southend, was adamant the scheme should go ahead. He said: "It should also be noted the figure of £20.5 million is at the higher end of the estimate and takes into account contingency costs that may not arise.
"We are determined to make this a worthwhile scheme of major benefit to the town."
David Watts, the council's technical services director, agreed saying the scheme is likely to cost millions less than the estimated £20.5 million because of the Government demands for contingency costs.