FEARS wre growing today that plans to ease Southend's notorious Priory Crescent traffic bottleneck could be scuppered by the cost of evicting protesters.
Campaigners are occupying a woodland site nick-named Camp Bling which is earmarked for the road widening scheme.
The Echo understands council officials have estimated the cost of using bailiffs and security guards to clear the site could be as much as £500,000.
There was no official confirmation of this today. However, when the Echo put the figure to former council leader Anna Waite, she admitted it was in line with discussions she had with council officials before losing her seat at the local elections.
She said: "Unfortunately, I can't see where the council is going to find that sort of money, so the whole scheme has to be under threat.
"It would be a great shame because Priory Crescent is crucial to the further development of the east of Southend.
"At the moment the vast majority of development is in the west, largely because traffic access is so poor to hte other side of town."
The environmental campaigners have set up a ramshackle collection of tents and huts and are ready to retreat into treehouses and tunnels to make it difficult for bailiffs to evict them.
One of the Camp Bling occupants, Ant Bailey, 39, said: "It's brilliant news if we're forcing the council to think again.
"We have an extensive range of tunnels and treehouses here and we can dig in for weeks."
He pointed out it had taken 40 days to remove protesters at Rettendon who were holding up the building of the new A130, which opened in 2002.
In Dalkeith, Scotland, authorities recently had to fork out £175,000 a day and a total of £1.9million to remove road protesters.
Southend Council has so far made no effort to remove the protesters because there is no start date for the project.
The council would have to apply to the High Court for long-term eviction order and could only employ bailiffs approved by the court, who would be more expensive than the bailiffs usually employed by the local authority.
The widening of Priory Crescent is long-standing council policy. A hard-core of opponents refused to accept defeat after the plan was approved at a public inquiry and have since kept up a high-profile publicity campaign.
Political observers say the controversy was a factor in Tory Mrs Waite's election defeat.