A GIANT leap towards the reinvention of Southend Airport will be taken next week as a new £5million link road opens.

The new road links Eastwoodbury Lane with Nestuda Way, Southend, creating the space needed to extend the airport runway by 300m.

The move will allow the airport to accommodate modern passenger jets, serving international destinations.

Airport owner, the Stobart Group, will host an official opening of the new road on Wednesday, when a ribbon cutting ceremony will be followed by the first official use of the road by councillors, airport staff and residents.

Alastair Welch, airport managing director, said: “This new road, and the subsequent runway extension, is one of the final pieces of the jigsaw required to allow the airport to become a fully-functional regional airport in time for the 2012 Olympics.

“This opportunity for south Essex to boast a modern, efficient regional airport, and the significant investment this will bring to the area, is unique, so it is great to see all the developments required to make this happen now taking place.”

Stobart Rail carried out the road building work, which started in February.

The scheme involved the creation of about 1,000 yards of new road, a new roundabout, a cutting to ensure street lights are hidden from the runway, and changes to St Laurence park.

Southend Tory councillor responsible for transport, Tony Cox, added: “We welcome this major milestone in the progress towards expanding Southend Airport.

“The road heralds the next step in the airport’s development, which, in turn, gives the green light to greater regeneration opportunities for Southend, and for the region.”

Work on the runway extension has already begun, undertaken by Stobart Rail, the railway division of Stobart Group.

Stobart Rail project leader Stephen Harker said: “We expect to have the runway completed before the end of the year. We’re already stripping the top soil away for the foundations of the runway.”

As part of the new road scheme, St Laurence park has received a new play area with £800,000 of new equipment, plus a new wildflower meadow, with the park now more than a hectare larger than it was before.

St Laurence ward Tory councillor Adam Jones said: “I am particularly impressed by Stobart’s generous investment in the St Laurence Park play equipment, plus the creation of new wildflower meadows.

“I hope the new road linking Nestuda Way with Eastwoodbury Lane will be called St Laurence Way, in honour of the local church and the ward I represent.”