Queensway project could start within two years

The stalled £575million Queensway scheme in Southend could begin within the next two years as the city council looks to spend £15million of funding before it is lost.

The Better Queensway scheme involves the complete regeneration of part of central Southend and will eventually involve the demolition of four dilapidated town centre tower blocks and the construction of more than 1,700 new homes.

Southend Council’s Labour-led joint administration is about to invite bidders to partner with them in the project after Swan Housing and later Sanctuary Housing dropped out of the scheme.

The council must spend £15million of a Homes England housing Infrastructure fund grant by March 31, 2025.

Homes England could also claw back the £500,000 from the grant that the council has already spent on the project if it doesn’t go ahead.

Ian Gilbert, councillor responsible for regeneration, major projects and regulatory services, said he wanted to “see the project moving again”.

He said: “We have to look at new delivery mechanisms as the economic climate now is different to how it was when we originally put forward the scheme. I very much want it to go ahead as close to the original concept.

“If there’s new suggestions that come forward we’ll consider them so I’m not going to say it’s going to be exactly the same but there’s full planning consent for the road changes and outline consent for phases of housing so we want to stick closely to that.”

Cllr Gilbert added: “We have two years in administration before the next council election. I would hope to see something physical happening within that time frame.”

The council says it will begin with phase one of the scheme which will see three new blocks built to provide 218 new homes. There will also be a cafe and office space and a new green space, named Porters Park.

Changes to the road layout will also feature in this first phase and will see the removal of the roundabout at Queensway, Sutton Road and Southchurch Road along with the underpass. Queensway itself will have four lanes with a footpath, cycle lane and bus stops.

Paul Collins, councillor responsible for finance, assets and investments, added: “The first part of the scheme is putting blocks of housing along Essex Street car park. Instead of trying to do all the project in one go we’re doing it in stages but it’s an important step forward to try and get some more homes into Southend city centre.

“We also want to put a park in, a green space to bring the area up a bit as well.”

Mike Smith, a resident in the Malvern block due for demolition, said he found it “hard to get excited” about the scheme which was first proposed in 2014.

He said: “I just wish it had been started before and the work underway. I can’t get excited when we’ve had so many delays.

“I wonder whether I’m going to spend as much time on this now.

“Before I was quite willing and interested in getting involved all the stages and meeting. I don’t think I’ve got the time to waste on it now. It could be that it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Crane dilemma

Only one crane in the country is capable of bearing the weight of a bridge which was due to be removed last year, it has been revealed.

The Queensway Bridge has been the scene of several tragedies, including the death of 19-year-old Chris Nota in 2020.

The bridge remains closed to pedestrians and earmarked for removal, but it has now been revealed it is proving a technical challenge.

Paul Collins, councillor responsible for finance, assets and investments, said: “It’s proving to be a bit difficult. We’ve been briefed by officers that there is only one crane in the country that is big enough to enable the stand to be lifted.

“It is very heavy and it’s got asphalt across the top which is making it even heavier. You can’t take the asphalt off because that would destabilise the bridge so we’ve got to wait for this large crane before we can start that process.”

A report to councillors on the place scrutiny committee, which is set to meet on Monday, said: “Officers are advised that there is only one crane in the country with the technical specifications needed to carry out this work and conversations are being had around timescales.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter