Southend councillors back £600m Queensway scheme despite setbacks

Southend councillors have unanimously supported the £600 million Queensway regeneration scheme in a secret meeting, but a challenging backdrop remains.

Southend’s Labour group had called for an extraordinary council meeting to debate a motion calling for the council to “do everything possible to deliver the scheme” which will bring 1,700 new homes.

The motion followed a pledge by Conservatives, who took over the administration in May, to scrap part of the plan which entails filling in the Queensway underpass.

This, Labour said, could put the whole scheme in jeopardy and called for it to be fully supported and pushed forward in its current form.

The 30-minute debate was heard behind closed doors on Thursday because of the “sensitive” nature of the discussions currently underway with Sanctuary Housing, which recently took over Swan Housing the council’s partner in the Better Queensway scheme.

It is currently unclear whether Sanctuary will agree to go ahead with the project which has also been hit by soaring construction costs.

Following the vote, where all 47 councillors present supported the motion, Labour declared it a victory saying the current scheme will go ahead as it is.

But the Conservative Group denied there had been any change in the Tory position on the underpass.

Ian Gilbert, Labour’s shadow councillor for business, regeneration and finance, said “Much work has been done to get Better Queensway to this point and I am delighted that we are once again speaking with one voice.

“The difficulties Swan, who are now a subsidiary of Sanctuary, face as a housing provider and the ongoing economic pressures on developments is clear for all to see.

“However, it is important that Southend City Council is a reliable partner with a reputation for seeing things through.

“That is what we have agreed and we will continue to work hard, cross party, to deliver the scheme for the benefit of our residents and the city as a whole.”

However Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative Group, said: “All it does is acknowledge we are all committed to delivering a Better Queensway scheme.

“We have never been opposed to closing the footway underpass because we know the concerns there are. People don’t feel safe.

“What we want to see as part of the scheme is a free-flowing road, where it is not hampered by traffic lights, speed humps or a reduction the speed limit. If that can be achieved by closing the underpass that’s fine.

“At the moment we’ve got a four-lane, free-flowing road and we still need to have that and I’m confident that can be achieved even within the current parameters of the scheme.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter