Southend Times
November 13, 2001

The big debate on Priory Park plans


LABOUR's bid to block the Tories' plans to ease congestion along Priory Crescent were snookered at last Thursday's council meeting when the Tories voted en bloc, and four Liberal Democrat councillors voted along with them.

Labour Coun David Norman's motion was: "In view of the overwhelming public opposition to proposals to take any part of Priory Park for road widening and the likely difficulties in doing so, the council should now abandon forthwith any further consideration of such proposals and instead focus on alternative approaches to the relief of traffic congestion in Eastern Avenue which do not include Priory Park."

It was a strange motion, as the Tories pointed out, because their proposals will not make any incursion on the park.

Apparently, though, one of Labours objections was the inclusion of a cycleway in the park which would have taken up part of it.


But as Coun Charles Latham pointed out the previous Lib Dem/Labour administration had installed a cycleway already in the park - and if there was not a call for one it could easily be left off.

But this didn't stop Labour proceeding with their full frontal attack on the Tories scheme.

Leading the attack, Coun Norman while congratulating the Tories on at least taking into account public opinion in drawing up their final scheme pointed out that Southend was such a good place to live because of the benefactors from the past who had bequeathed large areas of land to the borough.

These, he pointed out, included perhaps the biggest benefactor of all, R.A. Jones who had left the borough Priory Park.

"We must never betray the trust of those who gave us this land," he said.

"We should do all we can to maintain this land as open space and shrubbery."

He recalled Harold MacMillan telling Labour they should never sell the 'family silver'.

He accepted that as far as Priory Park was concerned it was more a case of selling a few spoons than the silver, but he still felt it was unacceptable.

The only real support he received in the council chamber, though, was from his leader, Coun Chris Dandridge, who didn't think the dualing of Priory Crescent would make any difference at all.


"This is a matter of principle," he said, "I know that no-one is going to concrete over Priory Park, but if you remove large trees from just outside you are going to take away part of the ambience of the park. Our policy is that not an inch of the park should be removed."

The Lib Dem leader, Coun Graham Longley didn't appear to be in the mood to support the Tories, pointing out that what they were proposing was not new.

He remembered a similar scheme in 1988-89, but felt if they dualled the road all that would happen was that the traffic would still expand to fill the road they built.

There will still be tailbacks, he said.

When the final vote was taken, though, he supported the Tories in blocking the Labour motion.

The Tories' Coun Roger Weaver, who has taken most flak from protesters over the Priory Park debate, was clearly relieved that he had pushed through a plan that did not interfere with the park.

He made it clear, though, that the intention was not to speed up traffic through Priory Crescent, but to make it flow better.


He made the point, too, that for every tree removed alongside Priory Crescent two mature trees would replace them.

"The traffic lights we install at Cuckoo Corner roundabout will be linked to the remainder along Eastern Avenue, improving the flow of traffic throughout the stretch of road," he said.

The Labour motion was defeated by 36 votes to 11.

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