Southend Echo
Thursday June 21, 2007

Saxon king site saved as road plan is scaled down

Celebrating - Ollie Hornbeam at Camp Bling


CAMP Bling protesters have won the battle of Priory Crescent.

As costs to widen the road continued to spiral out of control, Soutend Council has been forced to scale back its plans - and will no longer concrete over the Saxon king's burial site.

The new proposals, which would make only part of the busy road a dual carriageway, is expected to cost about £10.8million. The last estimate for the original plan was about £20million [where "about £20million" = £25million+]

The plans would dual the road from the Cuckoo Corner roundabout to the Lookers garage site, but it would be single carriageway beyond that point.

This would remove the need for a new railway bridge on that section of road, which was a costly element of the original scheme.

However, opposition parties have expressed concerns the watered down plan will not solve traffic problems and will still encroach on Priory Park, destroying almost 50 mature trees.

Graham Longley, Lib Dem group leader on Southend Council, said@ "If that's working with other parties, then it is a funny way to show it."

Anna Waite, cabinet member for planning, said informal talks with Department for Transport officials had indicated the latest proposals would be acceptable.

She said upgrading transport infrastructure was important, but so was the protection of the town's heritage.

Ollie Hornbeam, 28, campaigner and a full-time manager of the visitor's centre at Camp Bling, welcomed the change, but said he and his fellow protesters would not clear off the site until they were convinced it was safe.

He said: "This is only a statement of intention from the council.

"It is not a 100 per cent victory for us and it doesn't mean we are going to go away, but it is certainly a step in the right direction."

Mike Lambert, chief executive of regeneration company Renaissance Southend, believed the project could be a jey factor in improving the town's transport links.

He said: "We welcome the news, as it should help to achieve some improvements within the area. The improvements at Cuckoo Corner will fit in with our proposals to improve traffic links between the town centre and airport."

Campaigners' mixed feelings as Saxon burial site saved

Group's concern at loss of trees

Fears for trees - Denis Walker, secretary of Priory Park Preservation Society, with his dog, Morphy

PRIORY Crescent could be widened without coming at the expense of trees and parkland, an environmental pressure group has insisted. [Except of course, we haven't - Geoff Percival just doesn't listen.]

The Priory Park Preservation Society said despite the scheme being scaled back, it remained concerned about the loss of 47 mature trees along Priory Crescent.

Although the council has promised to replace these on a ration of three to one, secretary Denis Walker said: "While the loss of trees is half the number originally planned, it still means a lovely stretch of road will be destroyed for no real benefit.

"Although the council claim there is going to be no encroachment on Priory Park, it still means there will be a footpath actually inside the boundary of the park itself."

Mr Walker said the society had always maintained traffic flows could be improved without the road having to be made a dual carriageway at all.

He said: "We put forward our own proposals at the public inquiry for altering the junction at Cuckoo Corner, which we believe could have achieved the right result."

Mr Walker said the group was pleased the site of the Saxon king's burial ground had been saved from being concreted over, but had still hoped the entire project would be dropped.

He said: "This is welcome news, but we would rather have seen the whole idea of widening Priory Crescent abandoned.

"Personally, I suspect this could make the traffic situation worse, rather than better."

Ric Morgan, Liberal Democrat councillor for Prittlewell - who unseated former council leader Murray Foster at the last local election - said he could not see any benefit to the scheme.

He said: "We will see no improvements with half a dual carriageway around the park and we will lose 47 mature trees."


Half-cock measure will waste millions

PRIORY Crescent begins at Cuckoo Corner, and never was the name cuckoo more appropriate.

The Priory Crescent road widening scheme, as originally envisaged, is dead in the water, victim of soaring building costs.

Accepting this setback, Southend Council leader Nigel Holdcroft has devised a compromise alternative.

There are two things wrong with this approach. First, the plan itself is plain cuckoo.

It proposes widening just one stretch, from the A127 roundabout to the north-east corner of Priory Park.

You don't require a degree in traffic management to spot the consequences. The bottleneck won't disappear, it will simply be shifted from the roundabout to the Lookers garage site. Indeed, its ill effects will be exacerbated by the sharp bend at that point.

Yet the damage to Priory Park will still prove savage, with the sacrifice of many beautiful trees and the loss of the park's perimeter footpath. Result: All loss, no gain.

The Saxon king's site will be saved, and much is made of this fact. Camp Bling inmates will be cock-a-hoop. For the rest of us, this is likely to prove a matter of indifference.

Unlike its former contents, this narrow strip of greenery, stuck between the road and the railway, is no treasure. It is too isolated to become part of the park, too small and awkwardly-shaped to be used for building.

The second fault is that a compromise, any compromise, is worse than pointless. With the Priory Crescent scheme, it must be a case of all or nothing.

Regrettably, it is likely to be nothing. The Echo has stressed before that the great era of road-building is over, perhaps for good, not just because of the cost factor, but also thanks to changed attitudes towards the environment. Mr Holdcroft himself has said that there is "no hope in the foreseeable future" for the original scheme.

That is the reality. Half-cock, patch-up measures will do nothing to change it. To spend £10.8million on a compromise scheme is simply to waste £10.8million that could be spent more effectively elsewhere.

Back to the drawing board!

  • Total rethink of Priory Crescent
  • Costs cut from £20m to £10m
  • SOUTHEND Council has ordered a complete rethink of the controversial Priory Crescent widening scheme and slashed its costs in half.

    Leader Nigel Holdcroft admitted there was "no hope in the foreseeable future" of completing the project, which had been agreed after a three-week public inquiry nearly two years ago.

    Costs for the proposed dual carriageway had escalated to about £20million, but a new plan will reduce this to an estimated £10.8million. The new proposal has been worked up by Mr Holdcroft and Anna Waite, former council leader and now cabinet member for planning.

    Under the scheme, the dual carriageway in Priory Crescent would only extend from Cuckoo Corner to the Lookers garage site, and will not affect the former burial ground of the Saxon king - where "Camp Bling" protesters have set up.

    Beyond Lookers, the road will be single carriageway, meaning there will be no need for a new railway bridge as originally planned.

    Mrs Waite said: "We have had talks with senior officers from the Department for Transport, who have indicated that the scheme should be acceptable and funding should be available.

    "I have made it clear this is not the end of the needs we have in Southend and we will be coming forward in the future with proposals for other improvements at junctions along the A127.

    "Upgrading Southend's transport infrastructure is vitally important for the future of our town.

    "However, as well as looking at this, we want to safeguard and enhance the site of the Saxon king's burial as a commemorative area for the town. Protecting our heritage is one of our key concerns."

    Mr Holdcroft added: "I and my colleagues have recently had considerable concerns about the effect of the proposed road on the Saxon King burial site.

    "While the actual burial chamber is no longer there, we are proud of its significance in the history of the town and it is now our intention to preserve it for the future of the town."

    He said a suitable piece of art reflecting the history of the Saxon king would be commissioned for the spot, and it would be landscaped appropriately.

    He added: "It is possible there will need to be other achaeological explorations of the site."

    Long-running protest - part of Camp Bling which is on top of the site of a Saxon king's burial chamber


    Dan Newman, 39, a photography lecturer, of Leighville Grove, Leigh said: "I suppose there are two sides to it. From a motorist's point of view it is bad. But from an environmentalist's point of view, it is a great victory. I feel for the protesters but I respect their resilience."

    Alison Smith, 54, retired, of Victoria Avenue, Prittlewell, said: "I live nere there and I'm delighted the road scheme's not going ahead. It might have eased traffic in the short term, but traffic will just move elsewhere. The protesters did a brilliant job."

    Morris Hickman, 75, retired, of Glastonbury Chase, Westcliff, said: "The times I've been on that road and waiting, you need a little bit of room on the road. It doesn't matter to me if it's a site of history that much, I think that it's the future that matters the most."

    Arthur and Mary Mills, who own a coffee shop, of Station Road, Westcliff. said: "They shouldn't have put the road there if there's something historic. We can't see what the road was going to achieve."

    Roy Filer, 79, retired, of Westcliff, said: "The road idea was a complete waste of time from start to finish. Surely the council has got better things to do with its money."

    The plan's history

    THE often-controversial plan to widen Priory Crescent goes back almost a decade.

    It kicked up a gear in 2001, when the project formed the centrepiece of discussions between the council and local organisations - and the full implications of the plan hit home.

    Protest groups the Priory Park Preservation Society and Parklife were set up and claims were made that the council intended to bulldoze much of the park.

    In an effort to pacify the opposition, then council leader Charles Latham and transport councillor Roger Weaver walked the area to try to identify a solution.

    A number of proposals were rejected. The compromise plan of putting the footpath inside Priory Park and felling a nnumber of trees was then put forward.

    The grave of the Saxon king was found at about the same time as a public inquiry was due to be held over the compulsory purchase orders needed for the scheme.

    The inquiry found in favour of the council, but by this time, the protesers had become more vociferous and set up what was to become Camp Bling.

    Blingers: It's not 100 per cent victory

    Ollie Hornbeam - "They will still take a slice of park"

    CAMPAIGNERS against the widening of Priory Crescent have given a cautious welcome to scaled down proposals.

    The road widening scheme has been cut in half, with its cost reduced from £20m to £10m.

    The Saxon king's burial site off Priory Crescent will no longer be affected.

    But protest site Camp Bling, which was established 18 months ago around the excavation site, is expected to remain as it is until more definite plans are in place.

    Ollie Hornbeam, 28, campaigner and full-time manager of the visitor's centre at the camp, said: "This is only a statement of intention from the council.

    "It is not a 100 per cent victory for us and it doesn't mean we are going to go away, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

    "At least it shows they are listening to the people and the fact that they want to protect and enhance the site is good.

    "For the last year and a half, we have been told that we shouldn't be here and that the public want the road. But we often set up a stall in town and we get a lot of people saying they do support us.

    "It is not just the ten to 15 of us living here; many people don't think it is worth spending huge amounts of money to take off two and a half minutes off driving time and destroy one of the biggest archaeological sites in the country."

    Mr Hornbeam said he was still unhappy at the loss of some parkland and trees to accommodate the road.

    He said: "We have always said we are anti the road widening scheme altogether."

    Mr Hornbeam said protesters would stay for as long as it took to secure protection of the burial site.

    He said: "Our whole plan is to make this site public land once more, as it should have been in the first place."

    Opposition: They might as well dump the whole thing

    OPPOSITION leaders on Southend Council have questioned the effectiveness and value for money of the revised Priory Crescent scheme.

    They were also upset at the loss of almost 50 trees along the perimeter of the Southend park to make room for the wider road, although this is about half what would have been lost under the original plan.

    Graham Longley, leader of the Liberal Democrat group said he thought the new proposals would be a toothless compromise.

    He said: "I cannot see having half a scheme for more than half the price is good value for money.

    "I cannot see how having a dual carriageway which then becomes single when you get to Lookers car sales will make any difference. I think it will just transfer the bottleneck from one place to another."

    Mr Longley said the Liberal Democrats would like to see improvements made at the Cuckoo Corner roundabout that would properly allow the flow of traffic on and off Priory Crescent.

    He said: "What is being suggested at the moment appears to be dangerous and causing more problems than it will solve. In addition, it will mean the loss of 47 mature trees alongside Priory Park and the footpath going inside Priory Park.

    "I am also not happy the leader did not tell the other political groups until after the news had been announced to the press."

    Labour group leader Chris Dandridge said at first sight he was delighted the Saxon King's burial ground was to be saved from being concreted over.

    He added: "We will have to look at the proposals in more details and there are concerns about the loss of trees, but it could be the best compromise available. The Labour Party has always been against the whole of the road in the first place."

    Martin Terry, Indepen-dent Alliance Southend group leader, said: "I see very little point in this proposal, as it is only going to create another bottleneck when the traffic has to come from a dual to a single carriageway.

    "Frankly, the only solution to the traffic problems in the east of Southend is the outer relief road and we should concentrate on promoting that.

    "They might as well dump the whole thing."

    Reaction at

    Back to News Page
    Back to Home Page