Southend Times
March 16, 2004

Inspector 'blew whistle' on repetition

IT was 11 minutes past 11 last Wednesday - the fifth day of the public inquiry into the Priory Crescent scheme - that the inspector, Allan Blackey decided it was time to give notice that he would not be so tolerant in future on the barage of questions coming from the non-statutory objectors to the scheme.

It came after series of interruptions he had had to make while Peter Walker, of the Priory Park Preservation Society was questioning Southend Council's director of technical services, David Watts.

Mr Blackley told Mr Walker: "I have sat here now for the best part of five days and have given you a pretty free run. I am just mentioning this - but the inquiry is taking a lot longer because of a lot of repetition.

"I am now dampening down on repetition. I don't take any pleasure in interrupting you, but repetition is eating up a lot of time."

When Mr Walker pointed out that the objectors were receiving a lot of fresh evidence, often the night before the inquiry resumed, Mr Blackley went on: "You are oging to get a lot more notes and bits of paper yet.

"I am just explaining why I have to interrupt you, although it is something which I am not comfortable with."

Mr Walker had been asking Mr Watts if there were not more congested roads in Southend - particularly the stretch leading up to the Progress Road traffic lights - than Priory Crescent.

When Mr Blackley pointed out that this was not in the inquiry brief, Mr Walker insisted: "I am just pointing out that to spend £10m on Priory Crescent is a waste of money."

He also clashed with the inspector again when he was pressing Mr Watts on the impact of speeding traffic on children leaving nearby schools.

He asked Mr Watts: "Isn't the safety of children an over-riding factor?"

Mr Watts replied: "Not in relation to this scheme."

When Mr Walker persisted and began talking about the safety of pupils at Cecil Jones School on Eastern Avenue, Mr Blackley again said he had to draw a line - because the school was almost a mile away to the east.

"This is beyond our remit," he said.

Until this point Mr Blackley had indeed allowed the objectors a fairly free reign - but with lunchtime approaching on the fifth day and with his desire not to allow the inquiry to run into a third week he felt he had to serve the warning.

Later in the day, though, Mr Walker entered a statement to the inquiry in which he said: "I would like to registe my disappointment in the manner in which you ran this morning's proceedings."

He took issue with the inquiry timetable being rearranged to accommodate David Watts, who had an afternoon appointment.

"It is hard to envisage a professional commitment which could possibly have been more important than to answer questions in a public inquiry into a key aspect of the major scheme of the Local Transport Plan," he said.

Danger of looting of ancient site

LOOTERS could move in to ransack ancient burial grounds in the Priory Crescent area if the council do not get the go-ahead for the road widening scheme, it was claimed at last week's inquiry.

Jane Miller, of Atkins Heritage, said: "The 'do nothing' option - no road - would leave the site vulnerable to looters, in view of the publicity received and the known monetary value of the site.

"Unlike the cemetery in Priory Park the site is not legally protected. There is nothing legally to stop anyone digging the site up and removing the finds.

"This would be a particular tragedy in view of the rarity of the finds.

"It is therefore my opinion, having regard to the need for the scheme, the lack of viable alternatives, the benefits of gaining a better understanding of the chamber burial and its context, as well as the uncertainty as to whether other remains of similar importance exist on the site, that the general presumption in favour of preservation in situ is outweighed in this case.

"This opinion has also taken into consideration the potential risk to the site posed by looters if the site remains open as it is."

Jane Miller said the council accepted - that the archaeological site is of national importance in view of the sensational recent finds and this was not drawn into question.

She didn't believe, though, that the road widening would disturb other ancient sites.

She said: "The well-preserved, rare and important chamber is an extremely fortunate survival within an area of modern intrusions. In addition, given the size of the remaining site, it is not expected that another similar grave will survive, even within those parts which are undisturbed.

"If further barrows containing chamber burials once existed on the site, they would have been spaced further apart than our site allows, and would most likely have been up slope from the known chamber burial."

She added that alternative designs for the scheme which might avoid further disturbance of this area between the railway line and Priory Crescent had been explored - but none were feasible exonomically and some had the potential to cause impacts on archaeological remains elsewhere.

But she did add that there was a plan to continue an archaeological dig which could take up to eight weeks before the roadworks could begin.


THE leader of the Priory Park Preservation Society, Peter Walker claimed at the inquiry that the council's case for dualling Priory Crescent "is flawed, was was decided in advance as a result of out-of-date information and because central government had agreed in principle to fund the Local Transport Plan."

He told the inquiry the case for the scheme was tailored to justify the conclusion rather than as a result of public need - and was a waste of money.

"We believe that Priory Park and its envorns should be left undisturbed for the public to enjoy," he went on. "These environs include the Shrubbery area and all of the trees along Priory Crescent.

"We believe that any dualling/road widening would cause enormous damage to the quality of the park and that anny such dualling would do nothing to ease the congestion at Cuckoo Corner."

The Shrubbery is considered part of the park but is actually outside and on the opposite side of the road just below the railway bridge.

Mr Walker maintained that the Shrubbery was always intended to be an integral part of the open space/park and that its loss would immeasurably damage the amenity value of the entire area.

Mr Walker maintained that there was no need for the dualling of Priory Crescent - in fact, it was their view that any such east-of-town development, suggested by the council as a reason, would increase the demand beyond the capacity of the entire infrastructure, not just Priory Crescent.

"It is therefore the view of my society that the council could proceed with alterations to Cuckoo Corner without damaging Priory Park in any way," he said.

He maintained that the council would be interfering with facilities of the park by placing pedestrian facilities inside the park, which are currently outside, along with a cycle track.


"Furthermore, it is our view that after a brief period, the park boundary would be re-aligned to ensure that the footpath and cycleway were again outside the park and that in future more park land would be taken should the council ever feel the need to widen the road.

His colleague, Michael Downer told the inquiry that the recent Saxon find provided the council with an ideal opportunity to reconstruct the burial site in the actual area where it was found - which would be a major attraction for schools all over Essex for years to come.

This is part of the land needed to widen the road.


THE over-riding reasons why there is a need to improve traffic flows through Priory Crescent is the clear possibility of 4,000 jobs being created to the east of the town and 2,000 homes being built, said David Watts, Southend Council's director of technical services who will have responsibility for delivering the Priory Crescent scheme if it is given the go-ahead.

Mr Watts said 2,000 jobs could be created at the New Ranges in Shoebury, 600 at the Old Ranges, 500 at Fossetts Farm and 900 with the regeneration of existing industrial estates.

"Improvements to Priory Crescent/Cuckoo Corner are essetial to realising a number of significant employment opportunities and vital to realising the Government's objectives for growth and regeneration," he said.

It would, he explained, give a new lease of life to the site formerly occupied by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the area behind.

He pointed out that the site - Prittlebrook Industrial Estate - covered an area of 4.43 hectares providing approximately 370 jobs, mainly employed by Linpac.

"The estate is currently made up of old and out-moded low rise buildings with nearly 50% of buldings being vacant. It is clearly not attractive to new and existing companies in the town," he said, "particularly those seeking space to expand into prestigious modern premises."

Southend Council had been discussing the possibility of developing the estate with high quality buildings more suited to the modern economy.

"Although not so far included in discussions, an office park approach capitalising on a much more accessible sports/recreation facility than is currently provided by ECKO Sports Club, would create a very attractive environment," he said.

This would provide the potential for 900 to 1400 jobs - a significant increase in current job levels.

"When considered overall, once improvements to Priory Crescent are completed, this estate provides a unique opportunity to achieve early new space into which expanding local firms could decant - freeing up to other areas of the town for future renewal programmes," he pointed out.

So far as the Lookers site is concerned - part of which the council wants to acquire for the road scheme, Mr Watts said the showroom occupied 0.51 hectares, but would still have 0.42 hectares left afterwards.

Lookers could continue to operate as a 'front door' showroom, he maintained with workshop uses being located elsewhere.

Mr Watts added: "If the order lands are not confirmed for acquisition there is no other route that gives access to the eastern side of Southend and the employment opportunities required to be accessed without going through the more intensively developed part of Southend. This would be contrary to the whole purpose of designating the area to be part of the national and revional priority areas for regeneration and growth."

Finally, Mr Watts made the point that Priory Crescent was the last remaining single carriageway of the A127 from M25 to Shoebury.


THE design features of the road-widening scheme planned for Priory Crescent were outlined by Michael Hampton, of Atkins Highways & Transportation.

He explained: "The main feautres of the scheme are dualling of the single carriageway section of the A1159 in Priory Crescent and changing the layout of the Cuckoo Corner roundabout into a signalised crossroads junction.

"The junction improvement incorporates traffic management measures that include banning or right turning traffic from Manners Way into Prince Avenue.

"There is also potential for banning right turning traffic from Priory Crescent into Manners Way."

He explained that the junction is operating to near capacity conditions in the morning and evening peak hours - but in the years to come the junction is predicted to experience congestion with demand exceeding capacity in both morning and evening peak hours.

The forecast queues would be excessive in both the low and high growth scenarios.

Queues would also occur on Eastwoodbury Crescent - but to a lesser extent.

Council reaffirm their plans to replace trees

SOUTHEND Council reaffirmend their commitment last week to replace trees uprooted for the scheme on a two for one basis.

Andrew Shuttleworth, of Atkins Landscape, revealed that there would be a loss of 113 trees - 97 within the highway, nine within Priory Park and seven within the Aldi grounds beyond the railway bridge.

Of these, he said 77 were young or semi mature, 36 were mature or over mature and 18 dying or poor trees.

In fact, of the nine that would have to come down in Priory Park six were dying or poor trees.

Mr Shuttleworth made the point, too: "There would be no loss of land from Priory Park."


The aim would be to include 226 replacement trees - of which 120 would be within Priory Park, 18 within the highway between Cuckoo Corner and Sutton Road, 52 would be along the A127 to the west of Cuckoo Corner and 36 along the A1159 to the east of Sutton Road.


He explained that due to constraints on space within the highway corridor and to restrictions on planting trees near buried services and within highway sightlines there is only limited scope to provide plating within the highway land between Cuckoo Corner and the railway.

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