Southend councillors clash in seafront contraflow contretemps

The controversial seafront contraflow cost Southend Council a total of £75,000, including £6,500 for traffic cones.

The new layout from Chalkwell to Adventure Island was designed to give visitors more space to walk at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, costs of the contraflow scheme have been revealed following a report outlining the wider cost of the pandemic to the council – up to £3million per month.

Conservative leader, Tony Cox, quizzed senior officials at the policy and resources committee and asked where the cash was being spent and focussed specifically on the contraflow system in Western Esplanade.

Councillor Ron Woodley (Ind), who oversees transport, confirmed the barriers had been purchased and the £75,000 total included £44,000 to purchase 1,200 barriers, £6,500 to purchase 750 cones and £6,000 for new signs.

Other costs were linked to the work being carried out.

He said: “It would have cost us twice as much to hire them. We now have these for future use.

“In the past we have hired them but we took the decision that if we bought them, we would have them for events such as firework displays or for safety on the High Street.

“It was cheaper to buy them and this way we will have them a long while.” Mr Cox said it may have cost them double to hire the equipment but that means the council spent “£75,000 on a crackpot scheme rather than £150,000 on a crackpot scheme”.

He continued: “They are telling us they have a £20million black hole in the budget yet they have spent money on security guards for the contraflow, the cost of which is unknown, they have paid for barriers and extra signage and on top of that we have the lost revenue from the parking spaces which have been closed off.

“On average this could be costing half a million pounds if we include the lost revenue and it is all for a space nobody uses.”

Mr Cox also reiterated his concerns about the council’s failure to carry out a full safety audit, but this is not a legal requirement.

He added: “They created unsafe space where barriers falls down, there has been head on collisions between cyclists, we have people jumping railings and businesses have been prevented from opening, it is absurd.”

* Meanwhile, the Tories have claimed the contraflow could be in place permanently, prompting a backlash from Labour who insist it will eventually be removed.

During a place scrutiny meeting on Monday night, the Conservative group highlighted a council bid for government funding for new cycleways indicates the contraflow could be used for new routes and “can be made permanent”.

Council leaders denied this was a possibility but Cllr Cox, said the details were “there in black and white” and warned a permanent contraflow could do “real damage to our seafront”.

Clllr Kevin Buck (Con) also weighed in on the issue, telling the committee COVID-19 had led to “many unprecedented challenges” .

Cllr Buck accused the Labour, Lib Dem and Independent administration of demonstrating “anti-car, anti-seafront and anti-business policies”.

He said: “If this document is approved by cabinet, it gives devolved authority to implement the contraflow as it currently stands as a permanent feature.

“Once all the seafront parking has been closed and turned into footpaths and cycleways which will cause seafront businesses to close, can this administration explain how they will fund their future socialist vision for Southend without tourism?”

Labour’s Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “I think we have been quite clear but in case we haven’t, let me be crystal clear, there is no intention for this administration to maintain the contraflow for any longer than it is deemed necessary for social distancing on the seafront.

“That is the reason that it was put in and as soon as that reason is no longer valid, it will no longer be in place.

“I hope that is clear enough.”

Leigh councillor Peter Wexham (Lib Dem) went on to criticise the Tories for raising questions about the scheme’s future.

He told the committee he was “appalled at the attitude of the opposition” and he had “never known anything like it after 30 years on the council”.

The Conservatives quickly defended their democratic right to scrutinise the administration.

St Laurence councillor, Mark Flewitt (Con), said the questions were “not about being difficult or destructive” but about “questioning things when they are needed”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter