Southend Echo
Thursday January 18, 2007

Spiralling costs blamed


  • SPECULATION is rife the widening of Priory Crescent will be scrapped because of soaring costs.

    Southend's Labour Party announced "insider sources" had said the Government was on the verge of vetoing the controversial scheme.

    Its estimated cost, which has rocketed from £3million in 1999 to £21million today, is said to be too much at a time when cash for road building is in short supply.

    David Norman, a senior Labour councillor, said: "This is good news for local residents, particularly all lovers of Priory Park.

    "The Labour group continue to hold the view that the proposed road widening was of no value to the town's traffic problems and would damage a priceless local asset, which was bequeathed to the people of Southend in Perpetuity as parkland.

    The end for park road scheme?

    "It would have been a complete waste of public money."

    The leak was news to Southend Council leader Murray Foster, however:

    He said: "We haven't heard anything one way or the other.

    "If the Government were not to fund this much-needed scheme, at this point in time there are no alternative sources of funding."

    The speculation was given a cautious welcome at Camp Bling, where protesters have been living in an effort to block the road widening for almost 18 months.

    Byt Shaun Qureshi, one of the camp founders, said previous rumours had so far come to nothing.

    He said: "If that is the case, it is fantastic news for all the people in Southend who have fought for so long to stop the road going ahead.

    "But even if the funding is scrapped, we would need to look at our next steps.

    "If we were to vacate the land, we would first need to get an agreement with Southend Council that no road building would go ahead. At the v very least, we need to look at the timescales."

    "The road scheme has attracted protests from the start, but despite thousands of objections, it was approved by Government planning inspectors.

    The campaign to get it scrapped stepped up a gear with the discovery of the Saxon King's remains underneath it in 2003. However, if the road widening does not go ahead it would be a major blow to plans for Southend United's new stadium, which would depend heavily on Priory Crescent for access from the A127.

    Two sides of Saxon coin

    While protest heats up, museum announces new dig if road is widened

  • THE widening of Priory Crescent could mean more hidden gems are uncovered in the future, the Museum of London has revealed.

    At a meeting this week, the museum announced it would help fund another dig if the controversial road scheme finally gets the green light.

    However, protesters are doing everything in their power to stop the site of the Saxon King's grave being concreted over by the road.

    Some have set up a protest camp, called Camp Bling, on the site and on Tuesday evening, a crowed stormed a reception to celebrate Southend Council winning a gong in the British Archaeology Awards.

    Speeking at this reception, the museum's archaeology service managing director Taryn Noxon said it was a shame people did not realise how significant the find could be for Southend.

    She said: "One of the sad things about this extraordinary discovery is people do not recognise what an important thing it is for Southend and how important it could be for the regeneration of Southend.

    "The discovery we made was incredibly important. It was a below-ground chamber in which a body would have been laid out surrounded by his possessions or the things that the burial party felt he should be buried with.

    "There were lots of drinking vessels and copper pots and pans and some personal items like a couple of crucifixes.

    "It was really incredibly exciting and it waws probably one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries in the past century."

    Relics from a Saxon Cemetery were first uncovered more than 80 years ago in 1923 by road workers while laying the foundations for Priory Crescent.

    But no one believed there could be a man of such significance buried beneath the ground.

    However, by the time Southend Council started planning the most recent changes to Priory Crescent, the law had changed and it had to employ excavators to assess the archaeological implications.

    To everyone's surprise, these investigations uncovered the undisturbed 7th Century burial chamber, a wood lined room, in 200[4].

    It contained a coffin containing the body of what is now thought to be King Saeberht, the first Christian King of Essex.

    On his eyes were a pair of fine gold crosses and on his middle a gold buckle, items which indicated high status, and his coffin was surrounded by possessions including fine bowls, an iron sword, cauldrons, stools, gold crucifixes and a lyre.

    The significance of the discovery meant the excavation had to be completed under a veil of secrecy, and was not revealed until February 2003.

    The finds which were lifted and removed are in storage at the moment so the museum can continue inquires and research to learn more about them.

    But the extensive excavation of the area hs led experts to believe there may be more things near the site, and funding for the road would have to include a budget for archaeologists to follow up their hunch.

    Meanwhile, the hunt is on for a permanent home in the town for the treasures.

    Ken Crowe, keeper of Human History at Southend Museum, said: "The options are for a new building to not only house the King's treasure, but the major bulk of the museum's catalogue and the Saxon tomb will feature as a centre piece.

    "There is a growing body of evidence for Saxon settlements in South Essex. Before the discovery of a Saxon graveyard in the 1920s we knew nothing about this, but in the last decade we have actually found a growing number of settlements.

    "Obviously the burial of this very important Saxon indicates that somewhere in the vicinity was a high standard of settlement."

    Ann Holland, the council's executive councillor for culture, said: "We are looking forward to getting the finds back because we believe that Southend's history should be in Southend.

    "At the moment we are working on a feasibility study into where they can be placed. There are views they could be in the cliffs or somewhere else in the town."

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