Evening Echo
Tuesday September 26, 2006

Blingers with cake
  • Birthday - Bling residents baked a cake
  • Camp Bling celebrates a thorny year

  • A YEAR on, Camp Bling is still a thorn in the side of Southend Council's plans to widen Priory Crescent.

    It's the first anniversary of the day when eco-warriors Ant Bailey and Shaun Qureshi snuck onto the site and set up home there.

    Their aim was to stop road-builders concreting over the site of the Saxon King's burial.

    Since then, the scheme has temporarily stalled while the Department for Transport reconsiders it.

    Meanwhile, the camp has expanded with tree houses, a visitor centre and a mysterious network of tunnels now in place.

    Mr Qureshi said: "The last yaer has really flashed by. When you think we had a plan in place a year ago to last out for two weeks and beyond that it was a leap of faith, it was amazing to have everything fall into place.

    "Considering the scheme was about to go ahead, and it's still stalling, we feel we are partly responsible for that.

    "The Department for Transport are looking at information we have provided and are questioning Southend Council about that.

    "Whether or not they would be willing to say our direct action had influenced them, at the very least they are going to have to factor us in." He added: "If they fund this cheme, the Department for Transport know they aren't going to come out of it looking whiter than white.

    "I think we are in a good position to stop it now. Our position has always been we don't want to cost the taxpayer money. Our objective is to push up the potential cost of eviction so the scheme is abandoned."

    In July, the scheme was officially put on ice because the cost escalated from £15million to £21million, and the council is still awaiting word from the Government as to whether funding will be forthcoming.

    Council leader Murray Foster says he is confident this will be resolved "in the near future" and the scheme will go ahead.

    He said: "The concept of the scheme has been agreed as being a top priority and the Department for Transport is looking at the costing.

    "I couldn't be specific on the timing, but we are looking sooner rather than later. We are still committed to the scheme.

    "We will be evicting the protestors in the most cost effective way. I can't be any more precise than that.

    "I am disappointed they still feel the need to be there, given this project has been through a public inquiry and a clear democratic process.

    "There is a clear majority of people who want to see this scheme go ahead." [not according to The Echo's own poll]

    However, when pressed on his last point, he admitted this was based on "people I have talked to, certainly in the east of the town", and not official surveys.

    Meanwhile, Camp Bling is getting ready for a fight.

    Perhaps the strongest weapon is the tunnel network reportedly made under the site - rumoured to be one of the deepest ever dug.

    But the protesters are also working hard behind the scenes, collecting a petition of 25,000 signatures opposing the scheme and holding regular public meetings and events at the site.

    The camp held an open afternoon on Saturday to mark the birthday and thank supporters.

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