Queensway plans struggle to move forward after Southend Council meeting descends into political row over underpass

Southend councillors have admitted that proposals for the biggest regeneration project in decades was not properly scrutinised before being signed off.

The £500million plan to demolish the Queensway estate and rebuild it with more than 1,600 homes was discussed during a Place Scrutiny Committee meeting on Monday night.

But the discussion soon descended into chaos as councillors argued over who was most to blame for signing off a part of the plan that means raising the four-lane Queensway underpass – a move the Conservatives say will cause gridlock in the centre of Southend.

Tory councillor Kevin Buck tried to shift blame for the underpass decision to the coalition administration made up of Labour, Independent and Liberal Democrat councillors, despite his own party overseeing the council when it was signed off.

Cllr Buck admitted the cabinet at the time “did not understand” what they had signed off but pointed out that one of the mandatory requirements of the project during its development was to keep the underpass.

He continued: “What cabinet believed they were approving which all members across the chamber have agreed they didn’t understand was a significant departure from the document we were told this would achieve.

“There are serious misgivings about the process that has taken place here.”

The council’s deputy leader Cllr Ron Woodley (Ind) reiterated it was a Conservative cabinet that signed off on the raising of the underpass and opposition councillors should not “keep going back in history trying to change it”.

Labour council leader Cllr Ian Gilbert also slammed the Tories for trying to deflect the issue away from their own party.

He said: “Clearly I don’t know what was said by the previous cabinet in private but there is nothing on the public record as far as I can see that expresses unease about the highway configuration.

“The decision rests with cabinet and given that highways was a topic of discussion around Queensway for so long I find it inconceivable nobody in cabinet asked questions about how the highways layout was going to work.”

He added: “I cannot believe a cabinet member did not ask the most basic of questions around how the highways element was going to work. It defies comprehension.”

However, Cllr Gilbert who was in opposition at the time then also admitted to not extensively reading the paperwork that was signed off and said he was not aware of the underpass proposal.

Conservatives voted for the plans to be looked at again by council bosses during the next cabinet meeting on July 28 but Labour councillors called for them to instead be discussed at full council on July 16.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter