Southend Tories say they will not support Queensway regeneration if underpass is raised

The leader of Southend’s Conservative group has declared his party will not support the £500million plan to regenerate the Queensway estate if it includes raising of the dual carriageway underpass.

Plans to raise the underpass were revealed last month when plans revealed it would be filled with a tank which will help prevent seafront flooding during heavy downpours.

Conservative leader Councillor Tony Cox told members of the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee that if the Queensway underpass were to be raised it would “gridlock” the town and his party will not support it.

He said: “The support for causing carnage and gridlock in this town isn’t from this group. This group will not support the change to the underpass.”

He went on to say that it is an “absurd suggestion” and he hopes “common sense prevails”.

When the change to the underpass was revealed during a public consultation event, Tory councillors said they were shocked by the change and called for it to be scrapped.

But leaked documents later revealed the change had been included in confidential papers which had been approved in February, when the Tories were in charge of the council.

Mr Cox says the information in those papers was unclear and he had initially assumed it meant a change to the footpath.

Council leader Cllr Ian Gilbert said: “The proposal to raise the underpass is not a new proposal it was clearly made in the indicative business case that was circulated to councillors which was agreed.

“Mr Cox has claimed the proposal only meant raising the footway, raising the footway makes no sense in that context and I’m yet to encounter someone who thinks it is capable of baring that interpretation – it simply can’t.

“If that isn’t clear, there was a confidential presentation given to the cabinet on the same day which refers explicitly to raising the Queensway to grade.

“Taking this together it should be absolutely clear, assuming the cabinet were paying any attention whatsoever that the council was agreeing a indicative scheme that involved raising that road to grade.”

He added: “I wouldn’t be arguing this if it wasn’t for the fact Councillor Cox has tried to throw rocks at us over this issue.

“If he said we’ve looked at this and it’s a problem, we would be saying yes we can see there are problems and we will look for ways they can be mitigated, that is our position and if the opposition wants to play the blame game, they are on shaky ground.”

Mr Gilbert has previously stated that the plans are not final and removing changes to the underpass is possible but it would require trade-offs in other areas.

The Queensway regeneration scheme is expected to bring up to 1,650 new homes to the town centre and will rehouse the existing residents living in the Queensway tower blocks.

The Tories referred the dispute to the next full council meeting in December for further discussion.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter