Residents caught in the middle of a ‘petty’ political clash over Southend cycleway

Furious arguments have erupted over plans for a cycleway on Thorpe Hall Avenue, Southend, with councillors blaming each other for designing a scheme which they are now against.

The drama erupted last week when the council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind) accused two Conservative councillors of helping to create the plan for a cycleway, which they now object to.

Conservative councillors Alex Bright and Daniel Nelson called this “simply inaccurate” and insisted they have had no input on the plans, which could see a temporary cycle lane installed down the centre of Thorpe Hall Avenue.

Cllr Daniel Nelson

Cllr Nelson said: “Myself and Cllr Alex Bright have only raised concerns about this and officers have changed their design based off our concerns. We have not designed them and we have never supported any proposal for a cycle lane down Thorpe Hall Avenue.”

He added: “This all started because the council officers told me that they were not going to hold a consultation with residents on a major scheme along this road. I want view of residents listened to and enacted.”

The temporary cycle lane is specifically proposed for central reservation at the northern part of the road which is in the Southchurch ward, represented by the Tories.

The southern end of the road is represented by Mr Woodley who claims he was not happy with the cycle lane plan either and has worked with officers to design an alternative with more walking space for pedestrians.

He said: “I am disappointed in the councillors’ view on this and that they did not talk to me about it.

“If they felt it was not worthwhile they should have said and it would have been stopped.

“They had the option right at the beginning to say no. No one put a gun to their head.”

He insisted he did not have input in the design of the cycle lane in Southchurch ward but claimed Mr Nelson and Mr Bright helped officers knock £20,000 off the original £120,000 budget which has come from the Government.

The final design of the cycle lane remains unclear and cycling campaigner Adam Jones said the “rather petty” arguments are only likely slow things down for residents.

He said: “Other authorities across the UK have reacted swiftly and introduced pop-up cycle lanes while here in Southend, elected members are arguing amongst themselves about whose idea it is to invest £120,000 in Thorpe Hall Avenue.

“From a cyclist’s perspective, I’m far more interested in seeing the design for the proposed new route and what safety measures will be implemented to protect people on bikes from motorists.

He added: “If we truly want to encourage active travel in Southend, with all the associated benefits that go with it, then councillors should be doing everything they can to find common ground and agreement, so that projects such as the one proposed for Thorpe Hall Avenue can get underway, sooner rather than later.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter