Former Tory leader plans return to Southend politics

The former leader of Southend’s Conservative group has confirmed he is hoping to return to politics after losing his seat in last year’s local elections.

James Courtenay was leader of the Tories until he suffered a bruising defeat in the 2019 local elections, coming in third behind the independent and Labour candidates.

He was among eight Tory councillors to lose their seats in the election which saw the party lose their overall majority in the council which paved the way for the new Labour-led coalition which currently runs the council.

Shortly after the loss, the former Blenheim Park ward councillor vowed he was “down but not out” and has now confirmed he will bid to make his return by running for election in May in Chalkwell – a traditionally safe seat for the party.

“I lived in Chalkwell for 25 years. It is where I grew up, so it is pleasing to be selected. That ward will be my primary concern,” said Mr Courtenay.

“It is a ward I have always called home and so I am keen to tackle issues such as the anti-social behaviour in Chalkwell Park and around the train station, I’m also keen to get involved in the local community that would hopefully elect me.”

One of the most contentious issues that Mr Courtenay supported was the plans to redevelop the Seaway Car Park, off Lucy Road, into a major new leisure development.

He faced fierce opposition from seafront traders, a group who have become staunch allies of new

Tory leader, Councillor Tony Cox who made a U-turn on the party’s stance over the plan and is now urging the council to scrap it.

But Mr Courtenay says he doesn’t think his views differ significantly from the Tory leader.

“I don’t think we’re quite as far apart on Seaway as it may seem. The biggest concern about that scheme is parking.

“Previous commitments were made by developer Turnstone and by deputy council leader Cllr Ron Woodley, and it still stacked up when it was going through so it was only right we went with it but given the extended deadline has now passed I think we should say let’s look again.”

Speaking of his chances at winning in the election which is due to take place on May 2, he said the last elections came at a time when people were “fed up” with politics nationally due to hold-ups relating to Brexit – an issue which is now being addressed by the Conservative Party.

He added: “Boris Johnson got Brexit done and I think people are pleased we are able to move forward with that. But I do think what we do locally is important, and it is important that the Tories in Southend have coherent strategy for what we will do for the town.

“It is important we don’t just oppose what the rainbow coalition is doing but that we also have good alternatives to get back in power.

“I’m confident our manifesto will do that.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter