Southend Times
March 26, 2002

Debate over Priory Crescent rumbles on


SOUTHEND Council and the Priory Park Preservation Society are set to do battle in the courts - while the Liberal Democrats on the council are to press for a town-wide referendum on the isue of dual carriageway along Priory Crescent.

As the society have this week launched an appeal for £10,000 to fight the council over the proposed dual carriageway, Southend's chief executive and town clerk, George Krawiec says the council are ready to defend their case.

He told a council scrutiny committee last week, at which members of the society were present: "None of us want legal action. The only winners will be the lawyers. But in a way I would welcome an attempt at legal action because I am sure the council have done things correctly. I am very happy from the legal point of view and if it does go to court we will make sure we recover all our costs."

He said the council had taken professional advice which was that any attempt to force a judicial review at this time was "premature and misconceived."

The issue has still not gone to full council.

The scrutiny committee faced questions from the public over the Priory Crescent issue - including an attempt from one member of the public, Chris Ford, to have Coun Roger Weaver, Southend Cabinet executive councillor for highways, either censured or disciplined "for misrepresenting the facts."

Mr Ford wanted the Priory Park issue referred back to the Cabinet - and he supported the call for a referendum.

He pointed out that one petition containing 11,271 signatures specifically opposed any plans which will "cause damage to any mature trees in the park or Priory Crescent."

He added: "When referring to this petition in presenting the facts from the report to the Cabinet, Coun Weaver purposefully omitted this importent section from his presentation claiming 'therefore these people will be satisfied' with regard to the option chosen. Clearly this is not the case."

Coun Weaver countered by making four points.

"Many people have been fed misinformation - particularly that the road widening will take land from the park when this is not the case," he said.

"Sometimes, members have to take decision that are not popular with everyone, in the best interests of the town as a whole.

"This is one of those cases. Mr Ford refers to 18,480 objections, but the population of the borough is 10 times that number.

"As the scheme progresses it will be necessary to follow the various statutory and other procedured which will involve further consultation."

Coun Weaver said it was important to reduce traffic congestion to stop pollution.

"I don't want the number of children with asthma to increase," he said.

"I don't want the town to stagnate and become an economic backwater. I want people - including in cars - to be able to move around the borugh.

"For all these reasons, I do not believe a local referendum is either necessary or appropriate."

Legal errors

In another question from Peter Walker, chairman of the Priory Park Preservation Society, pointed out that their solicitor had identified at least 15 m akor failings and legal errors in the report to the Cabinet.

Coun Weaver replied: "It is not accepted that there are legal short-comings in respect of this matter and we have now received advice from specialist counsel to this effect."

Coun Graham Longley, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said it was now time to forget the debates of the past on Priory Park and give the residents of Southend the opportunity to decide which option they would like to see for Priory Crescent."

Coun Longley has never made any secret of his preference - which is for an outer bypass.

He said he wanted the whole issue referred to the full council on April 25 when he would press for a referendum.


PRIORY Park Preservation Society have launched an appeal to raise at least £10,000 to pay for the legal costs of seeking a judicial review if Southend Council decide to go ahead with the plan to build a dual carriageway from the railway bridge at the top of Priory Crescent down to Cuckoo Corner.

The society's chairman, Peter Walker, says: "Of course, this action will prove to be very costly and we are asking our members and other residents , who don't want to see our park damaged to contribute to our cause.

"Residents are really paying for this twice; we pay our council tax only to see it squandered by an incompetent local authority and then we have to pay again for a solicitor and possibly a barrister to make them do their jobs properly."

Mr Walker says that the council are wrong to say the decision of the Cabinet to recommend the council to go ahead with the scheme was not democratic - "when the report acknowledges that for every supporter of the road scheme there are more than 1500 against it."

He adds: "People are against this road scheme not just because it is environmentally damaging; they are against it because it won't do anything to solve the borough's traffic problem."

Southend Council's Cabinet have made it clear that they will not be encroaching on Priory Park itself.

The Charity Commissioners have ruled, they claim, that the small parcel of land which will be affected - on the opposite side of the road to the park - is not part of the park.

The Cabinet have also made it clear that for every tree that is destroyed for the new road two semi mature trees will take their place.

The final debate on the Cabinet's recommendation will be held in the Civic Centre council chamber on April 25.

* Residents wishing to contribute to the society's appeal should send their contributions to Priory Park Appeal, [address]. Cheques should be made payable to Priory Park Preservation Society.

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