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The controversial plan to raise the Queensway underpass will go-ahead under new plans for the borough’s most ambitious regeneration scheme.
The £500million project aims to completely transform one of the most deprived areas in Southend with the existing tower blocks made up of 441 homes being completely demolished and replaced 1,700 new properties.
New plans show that up to 512 of these will be ‘affordable’ homes and a further 300 could be social rent. All of the residents currently living in the tower blocks will be given new homes on the site.
The leader of the council, Councillor Ian Gilbert, has said the plans represent “hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into one of the most deprived areas” that will create better and safer housing.
However, one of the most controversial aspects of the scheme is to raise the four-lane Queensway underpass to ground level and this has not changed since the initial details were revealed.
The plan to raise the underpass was initially approved by the previous Conservative administration, but following the publication of the plans at the end of last year, the party urged the new administration to make changes.
In an open letter, Tory leader Cllr Tony Cox warned it would contribute to “continuous congestion”.
Geoff Pearce, executive director of regeneration and development at the council’s partner firm, Swan Housing Association, called raising the underpass the “best option” and explained that “there will still be four lanes, there will still be a roundabout and this allows for added green space”.
He added: “We are not putting in something we don’t think would work. If we kept the underpass as it is, would it really be a quality space?”
Cllr Gilbert said: “I believe the benefits of the scheme in terms of better housing, better environments and better lives for the people of the town – the benefits speak for themselves.
“We have gone back and looked at all the assumptions around the road network and this was signed off as meeting our minimum requirements this time last year and that is the key point.
“We really can’t afford to go backwards on this scheme.”
The council leader went on to stress that the the scheme is to improve the lives of the existing residents on the estate and bring more affordable homes to Southend.
“As a partnership we are working to provide at least 100 more socially rented properties to the number previously proposed at the last consultation,” he continued.
“This would mean the scheme delivering at least 600 affordable homes for local people, of which a high proportion will be social rent, and I would this can go further still.”