Southend Council comes under fire over lifting of lockdown restrictions

Southend Council has been accused of being “ill prepared” for easing the lockdown restrictions.

The accusations from Conservative Group leader Councillor Tony Cox came after a busy Sunday at the seafront when he claimed there were large queues for public toilets and people unable to follow social distancing when using a new road layout on Western Esplanade.

But council leaders have defended their handling of the crisis and labelled parts of a new Conservative plan for the town’s recovery “daft”.

The 10-point plan published by Mr Cox calls for new cycleways, the opening of all car parks, maintaining visible policing on the streets and giving all rough sleepers a permanent place to live.

It also suggests putting the brakes on major regeneration projects, including the redevelopment of the Queensway estate and the £50million Seaway Leisure centre.

“We saw this weekend how ill prepared the council has been in the easing of lockdown measures as we saw large numbers of people come to our seaside as they enjoy their new found freedom,” said Mr Cox.

“We saw businesses unable to bring supplies to their premises. A cycle lane in the middle of where the council are encouraging walking and nowhere for any broken-down cars to move away from the flow of traffic. All due to the measures placed along the seafront.”

He added the “mismanagement” will result in “disaster”.

But the Labour leader of the council, Councillor Ian Gilbert, said several of the ideas are “daft” including the suggestion that Seaway Leisure is put on hold – a decision that is in the hands of the Government following an appeal, not the council.

He also pointed out that the council has limited control over police numbers.

“Cllr Cox said he wants more cycleways, but not at expense of roadway, but then what is he suggesting we form a cycle way from? Does he want us to restrict pedestrians,” he said.

“The regeneration of the Queensway estate is our own decision and we are still working to progress it.

“Residents on that estate have waited a long time for the scheme, I don’t think it is fair to keep them waiting longer.

“At a time when people are worried about the economy, bringing new jobs, new homes and new businesses to Southend is surely the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, deputy council leader Cllr Ron Woodley, said forward planning is a big challenge as changes to lockdown are decided by the Conservative Government, with the council getting no advance warning.

He explained the authority was not notified ahead of time that people would be allowed to visit beaches last week, leaving them just days to prepare.

He also hit out at the suggestion all rough sleepers can be given a permanent home, questioning what the Tories suggest is done about the “1,500 Southend families also waiting to be housed by council”.


Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter