ANNA WAITE, Southend councillor for responsible for transport, explains in detail why she scaled back the controversial road widening scheme in Priory Crescent
I NEVER had any intention of abandoning the Priory Crescent road scheme in Southend.
The main purpose of the road widening project was to improve accessibility to the east of our town.
We wanted to do this for a number of reasons:
* To open up regeneration opportunities and to secure existing jobs
* To reduce traffic queuing on both the east-west and north- south axis on a major route and therefore ease traffic in residential areas using rat runs
* To enable better traffic management along the westerly section of the A127 via linked traffic light control systems.
To put some flesh on the regeneration issue above, in the immediate area of the scheme is the Prittle Brook industrial estate with currently a little over 300 jobs on the site.
This is clearly under performing and I would expect to see, in coming years, something in the region of an extra 1,000 jobs going in this location.
Moving east a little we have the Stock Road and Temple Farm estates. Improved access will allow the companies operating on these estates to remain competitive.
Further to the east in Shoebury are several estates where there are excellent opportunities to increase job numbers.
Within the town centre, there is evidence of firms moving out to Basildon so they have shorter, more reliable journey times.
As Basildon releases yet more and more land for industrial development, we will become less and less competitive unless we too, like Basildon, improve our infrastructure.
I believe we should be looking to secure good, worthwhile jobs for our residents and for future generations.
In addition, we have the Government's target of 13,000 jobs to find before 2020.
This is in order that the occupants of the extra housing that the Government has insisted we build can actually go to work.
Referring specifically to Priory Crescent, clearly things change.
The price has changed from an estimated £3.5million in July 2000 when the scheme was initially costed to a possible outside figure of £16.1million in 2006.
The cost inflation was due to many things, not least the delays and general development cost inflation in this area due to the Olympics.
At £3.5million, it represented value for money at £9.1million at the time of the public inquiry in 2004 it represented value for money and it still does stack up on economic grounds.
But clearly this Government doesn't have £16million plus to spend on the scheme.
It is quite clear we still have a major need to improve the Cuckoo Corner junction and access to the east.
But dualling the full length of the road with the extremely expensive second bridge and the compulsory purchase of the land to the east, it is beyond Government financing.
There is much support for the original scheme, but that is being tempered with concerns over the rising costs, the delays and the loss of the Saxon King burial site.
I therefore asked officers to look at a reduced scheme, to see if real and tangible improvements could be gained by concentrating the project on Cuckoo Corner and the initial section of Priory Crescent.
They have confirmed this is the case. Traffic will flow significantly better than at present.
I asked for confirmation the transfer from dual to single lane could be effectively managed not to cause a bottleneck at that point.
I am assured that with the length of dualling we have, the envisaged speeds, and with proper traffic management controls, this can be effectively dealt with.
When I went to London to the Department for Transport I met with senior civil servants. They clearly wanted to work with us to provide an improved traffic flow, but didn't want a bill for £16million.
I made it clear any amended scheme could not be taken in isolation, but had to be part of a greater scheme that would look at the whole of the A127 from Progress Road and on through to North Shoebury and this work is now commencing.
I took the view that given the possibility of getting some very real improvements in the not too distant future as opposed to waiting for what would be many years, if ever, for the original scheme, to recommend that we resubmit an amended plan.
I stipulated the area under which the Saxon King burial was located should not be part of the scheme, but should become the Saxon King Commemorative Ground, with careful landscaping and an appropriate and tasteful commemorative piece of public art.
This would allow for future archaeological exploration.
I have also stipulated that as few trees as possible are to be removed. Any that are should be re-planted on a two for one basis.
Additional areas within the park and around the northern road edge are also earmarked for improved enhancement.
The scheme delivers tangible benefit to traffic flows both north south and east west, will relieve rat-running, allows for the development of the town centre and airport due to the inclusion of rapid transport projects, will give regeneration benefits for the east of the town, does not concrete over the Saxon King land, removes far fewer trees and puts in additional planting areas.
We have listened to the people across a broad section, not just those who shout the loudest.
We will not abandon the scheme and all the jobs and traffic improvements that go with it.
I hope we can get on with delivering the much needed improvements for the residents of Southend.