AT £500million, the ambitious plan to demolish four Southend town centre tower blocks and replace them with 1,600 modern homes is the biggest regeneration project in a generation…but at what cost?
A huge political row has been sparked by the move to effectively mothball the Queensway underpass and replace it with a “simplified” four-lane dual-carriageway.
The current bypass – built in the 1960s – links Southend town centre with Southchurch and Southend seafront and many argue the move could cause serious traffic congestion in the heart of town.
As part of the ambitious Better Queensway scheme, Queensway would be “remodelled” to a four-lane road, by the infilling of the existing underpass and retaining four lanes of traffic.
However, fears from opposition councillors suggest that the move to shut the bypass will create massive traffic delays for motorists to and from the east of Southend, which also includes vehicles travelling to and from Great Wakering and parts of Rochford.
Tory councillor Kevin Buck, Conservative spokesman for highways and transport, said the underpass was put in place 50 years ago when there were fewer than 10 million cars on the road, compared with 35 million now.
Cllr Buck said despite the aspiration of a “Better Queensway”, the town centre would be dissected by a dual carriageway that is going to be continuously congested.
He added: “They are engineering in congestion. These lovely pastel-coloured drawings that they have shown us for an idyllic Queensway with people walking with pushchairs will all be punctuated by a dual carriageway that will constantly be congested.”
He points to the Victoria Gateway junction and the congestion that also causes.
However, councillor Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council, says the underpass isn’t the main concern and the biggest problem in the area is the Victoria Gateway junction itself.
He added: “Our roads cannot cope with it all coming down into one section. The proposal to remove the underpass was signed off by the Tory administration – they approved it.
“I’m not saying that was right or wrong but that went through council and 51 councillors. We are looking at where the bottlenecks are – they are within the Victoria Gateway.”
Labour councillor for St Laurence ward in Southend, Daniel Cowan recently visited the area by taking a socially-distanced walk with a film-maker who wanted to know more about the area for a university project on regeneration before the latest restrictions.
He said he was there for around half an hour on a Saturday and he says around 20 cars passed by during that time.
He added: “There were far fewer restrictions – people were shopping more than in recent weeks. It was so quiet. We have to look at what’s good for the town 365 days a year and not what’s good for the town on our busiest days.”
He says that bringing new investment to the town and homes is in the wider interest of the public. However, there are issues that need to be resolved, such as, infrastructure.
“We need to look at how the road network works and we need a proper bypass into Southend which means it should go around the north of the borough and through Rochford.”
However, despite the needs of this it’s all dependent on the planning situation and funding.
He added: “You really have to address these issues as part of planning – this is the right way to do it.”
He said he looks forward to seeing the road layout when the plans come forward to the development control committee.
He said: “There will be changes the whole way through that will have short-term impact and long-term benefits on the wider community.”
The dual-carriageway will consist of a footpath, cycle lane, bus facilities, landscaping and a new roundabout that will link Southchurch Road and Queensway.
Currently the road is the main route to the seafront and Cllr Cowan, says a highways report in the summer will highlight what the predicted issues will be.
He said: “I don’t share the prediction of chaos. I think any development does have an initial impact on traffic. Every time I’ve been there it’s been relatively quiet despite a few days in the summer.”
The councillor believes the project will undoubtedly raise some initial issues but ultimately the new changes will be accepted by residents. There will be incremental changes over a period, but residents will adapt to the environment that they live in.”