Evening Echo
July 11, 2006

Time to back out of Priory road widening scheme


THERE have been many compelling arguments in favour of the controversial road widening scheme next to Priory Park in Southend.

Tacking the daily delays faced by hundreds of motorists at the notorious traffic bottleneck is an aim few people would disagree with.

Improving access to the east of Southend to help businesses prosper is another. Those objectives are laudable.

However, there are now more superior arguments against the road scheme that Southend Council cannot ignore any longer.

The cost of the road has shot up from £15million [originally £3.5million - PPPS ed] to a staggering £21million. How can this be justified for such a small section of road?

The Government has put the scheme on hold because of concerns over the cost. Rightly so. There should now be a review to determine whether the benefits actually justify the expense.

Creating a dual-carriageway in Priory Crescent, with appropriate traffic lights, would certainly improve traffic flow on to the A127. But what happens when traffic reaches the Bell pub? There will, of course be even greater hold-ups for traffic than there are now.

The new dual-carriageway in Priory Crescent would only shift the bottleneck to the Bell. That would be acceptable if Southend Council had a strategy for tackling traffic congestion at the Bell and the other hotspot at the Fairway in Leigh.

It appears, however, there is no obvious strategy.

Some have said underpasses shuld be built to ease the flow of traffic. A great idea.

However, Southend Council remains sceptical because it is unlikely Government cash would be available.

With the estimated £1million cost of moving Camp Bling protesters added to the increased cost of dualling the road, Southend Council should now look seriously to scrapping the scheme.

The project is not cost-effective and it will simply push traffic congestion further west onto the A127.

Services may suffer, but £1m eviction is still on

Cuts won't stop council footing Camp Bling bill

THE predicted £1million bill to kick out Camp Bling protesters will be footed by Southend Council... despite another round of damaging cuts to council budgets next year.

Council leader Murray Foster confirmed the council would fund the eviction, even though its overall budget faces a cash shortfall of "several million pounds".

Mr Foster said he was confident the Government would back the £21million cost of widening Priory Crescent. The cost of the project has soard by 40 per cent, to £21million since it was first announced.

The council would then dip into its emergency reserve funds to pay bailiffs to evict protesters at Camp Bling, which stands next to the route of the proposed road widening scheme.

Mr Foster said: "I feel encouraged we may well see a positive outcome at the end of the day.

"Camp Bling remains a blot on the landscape. It is totally flying in the face of a public inquiry.

"Many people in this town do want this scheme and I don't think the protesters are recognising that.

"They should take a long, hard look at themselves and what they are doing for the town."

The demonstrators are determined to stay put until the scheme is abandoned.

Resident Shaun Qureshi said: "We do not want to cost the taxpayer money. We want to make the cost of evicting so high that Southend Council will say it is impossible. Then it will not cost anything because they will not do it."

He added that even if the council did manage to evict them, it would then have to prevent the protesters from returning and setting up a new camp.

The protesters will not reveal how they plan to protect the camp - though it is known they have dug a series of tunnels.

Southend Council believes eviction could cost £500,000, but Camp Bling protesters believe similar evictions around the country have cost more than £1million.

If forced eviction does look likely, then hundreds of supporters from throughout Britain are expected to flock to Priory Crescent to fight off the diggers.

On Thursday, the Government announced funding for the road scheme was under review, because the council was now asking for £21million for it.

When the scheme was first mooted, it was at a cost of just £3.5million, rerouting the new road to avoid Priory Park itself led to the five-fold increase to £15million. Since then, the cost has risen again.

The increased cost of purchasing land north of the original route, revision of its plans and inflation have all contributed to the soaring costs.

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