New road will trigger start of Southend homes project

A major scheme to fill in the Queensway underpass in Southend city centre and build a new link road will cost more than £21million, it has been revealed.

Southend Council’s Labour-led administration has confirmed work on the controversial road scheme will take place first to kickstart the stalled plan to build 1,700 homes to replace four Queensway dilapidated tower blocks.

The plan to raise the road and fill in the underpass is expected to cost in the region of £21.5million – above the £14.5million the council has already been granted to kickstart the scheme.

The first phase of the revised Queensway scheme includes 218 new homes out of the 1,700 planned for the whole scheme, as well as the roads project.

Daniel Cowan, Labour leader of Southend Council, said residents often complain about a lack of infrastructure improvements alongside homes projects as he defended carrying out the work prior to homes being built.

He added: “If we look at any development across the city we often hear from residents that they want to see the infrastructure improvements before the homes go in.

“They often feel once the homes go in the infrastructure improvements don’t come.

“This is useful in that it allows us to retain our planning permission so we can get on with the homes and the improvement and the regeneration the area needs.

“There’s also the benefit of having the infrastructure that the new development would require.

“That would be in place and something I know residents would like to see in more developments.”

The council is looking for a partner to deliver the first phase of the scheme after Sanctuary Housing dropped out last year and is still looking for the “best route” for the outstanding funding needed.

The new Queensway will have a four-lane dual carriageway in place of the underpass and its three and a half lanes of slip roads.

There will also be a footpath, cycle lane, bus facilities, public realm, landscaping and associated structures as well as a new roundabout, linking Southchurch Road and Queensway and closing access to Sutton Road.

Cllr Cowan added: “At the moment there have been no discussions about changing the speed limit. We need to think about how people generally traverse the area and what speed limits are right. That may be considered, not changing the speed limit to 20mph but what is the most appropriate speed limit for the area.”

He also added the current planning permission for the first phase includes the road work being completed first, and any deviation could impact Homes England funding which was previously allocated.

The proposals involve phased work to remove the roundabout at Queensway/Sutton Road/Southchurch Road along with the underpass. This includes the removal of the on-off slip arms as well as the roundabout bridges, subways and associated footbridges.

A new roundabout will be brought up to ground level by infilling the underpass, linking Southchurch Road and Queensway. It comprises four arms, removing the arm to Sutton Road compared to the existing five arm roundabout.

The road scheme also involves installing water attenuation tanks below the road to help protect the city against bouts of flooding it has seen in the past.

Asked if the speed tables and traffic lights would remain part of the scheme or whether they would be amended at a place scrutiny meeting on Monday, Ian Gilbert, councillor responsible for regeneration, major projects and regulatory services, said: “The intention of the administration is to proceed with the planning application as was granted by a development control committee on a cross party basis but as a large scheme like this progresses it’s not unusual for there to be details that might be open for change.”

Queensway Bridge Under Construction

The Queensway underpass was built in the late 1960s and early1970s to alleviate congestion in the town centre and to give traffic a clear route to the seafront.

During consultation on the Queensway project the proposal to fill in the underpass has been roundly criticised by some, particularly seafront traders who cite the fact the underpass is often gridlocked on sunny days.

Town planners, however have argued that studies show it is underused at other times.

Speaking at a place scrutiny committee meeting on Monday, Kevin Buck, Conservative councillor for Prittlewell Ward, said: “Currently the Better Queensway junction is an eight-lane junction with a four-lane underpass through it. Not all the traffic uses the underpass therefore the traffic shares the junction so it is an eight-lane junction.

“The proposal is to reduce that junction down to a four-lane highway with roundabout, pedestrian crossings and speed humps etc.”

Cllr Buck added: “ “One of the key ambitions of this project was to produce a free-flowing highway in Queensway. This will not do it. The report procured or drafted by the council states very clearly that in busy times the flow rate of that highway will be reduced and there will be increased congestion.

“I have documents from the 1960s and early 1970s when that stretch of the road was put in and all of the reasons for that stretch of road being put in was to alleviate the congestion at Porters roundabout. What we are about to do is return that road to the original 1960s layout that the council and the Government at that time spent many millions to alleviate.

“In the 1960s there were less than 10million cars on the uk road. Today there are over 35million cars so a 350 per cent increase in traffic and yet we think we can manage a highway by reducing it’s capacity.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter

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