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Councillors who have publicly criticised new plans to scrap the busy Queensway dual carriageway underpass were responsible for approving it, it has been revealed.
The Conservative Party was in charge of the council at the beginning of the year and signed a partnership deal with housing developer Swan Housing for a £500million regeneration scheme that will see 1,650 new homes built along the Queensway.
When the plans were published earlier this week, the Tories – who lost control of the council in June – claimed to be shocked to see the dual carriageway underpass would be scrapped.
But a confidential council document obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has revealed that the idea of removing the underpass was included within an early proposal from Swan Housing – a proposal signed off by the Conservatives almost nine months ago.
In a section of the document detailing Swan’s ideas for changing the highway, it explains that the “four lanes from town centre to seafront” would be retained and the scheme “raises the Queensway underpass to ground level throughout”.
Conservative leader Councillor Tony Cox who stated earlier in the week that the removal of the underpass has been “railroaded through” explained that when his party initially looked at the document he thought it was referring to a pedestrian underpass.
He said: “If it was referring to the road it was deliberately mis-leading. The mayor who was then the leader of the party did not understand it as referring to that and neither did the cabinet.
“The underpass was there to remain with four lanes. I spoke to the leader about this at the time, that was his understanding and my understanding.”
Other councillors, including the current deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), admitted that while in opposition he had also failed to spot the crucial change.
He said: “We all missed it but I don’t think the cabinet would have missed it at the time.
“Nobody raised the situation back then that the underpass would be surface level and that is the truthful and honest situation of it.”
He added that more attention was focused on the inclusion of affordable housing rather than any modifications to the road lay out.
Cll Martin Terry (Ind)
said he had only just learned of the confidential document and
accused the Tories of misleading the public.
Cllr Kevin Buck (Con), who criticised the removal of the underpass earlier in the week, added:
“There is both cross party angst and dismay at what members have been presented with at the consultations this week.
“If so many councillors have been surprised by the change in the highways scheme, you have question how effective was the communication of this change in the first place?”
He went on to criticise the council for not designing the changes to the highway and then telling developers what they wanted.
Referring to the confidential section of the report, a Southend spokesman said: “As your enquiry refers to a part 2 report, we are unable to comment.”