The £25 million Scheme was largely funded by a central government grant, which was provided with the condition that all works should be completed by March 2011. Paul Mathieson spoke to Premier Construction on behalf of the Southend-On-Sea Council: “The Better Southend scheme comprised four projects which were all linked by the aim of regeneration and better access to the town.”
The projects included two major infrastructure improvements at road junctions. These were carried out at the A127 Arterial Road/Progress Road junction and at the A127/A1159 Cuckoo Corner roundabout. The works tackled the problem of delays into the town centre, improving access into and through the town, while also improving cycle provision and pedestrian facilities.
Progress Road is the first traffic-signal junction on the A127 approach to Southend. It is the main access road into the town from London and links directly with the Progress Business Park. On both sides of the approach an additional lane was added that widened the highway to three lanes, and an extra right-turn lane was also constructed to accommodate access to a smaller side-road.
Mr Mathieson explained that although there was space for the road to be widened easily, it was a more complicated process because the A127 had to remain open at all times during the day and carries anywhere between fifty and sixty thousand vehicles daily.
The improvements at Progress Road have been recognised in the Local Government New Street Design Awards, winning the Highways category. “What the judges liked,” explained Mr Mathieson, “was that the value of the highway works are only around £5 million, but the value in terms of journey-time saving is in the order of fifteen to twenty minutes for people travelling into Southend. It was judged to be outstanding for providing high benefit for a relatively low cost.”
The Cuckoo Corner project involved adding traffic signals into the junction alongside the original roundabout, working within land constraints to add some local widening to reduce congestion and add new pedestrian crossings. Innovation is a major theme of the Better Southend scheme, which aims to bring new ideas, materials and technologies into the town improvements. Paul Mathieson described some of these innovations:
“All the traffic signals now use low-voltage LEDs which means that they run on about as much power as an electric kettle, while the signals at Cuckoo Corner use technology which automatically runs signals to balance the flow of traffic and control the pedestrian crossings, so it’s quite innovative in terms of the way that the traffic signals are combined with retaining the roundabout.”
The two junction improvements have been carried out by main contractor Birse.
In the town centre, major changes were made to the existing roundabout junction at Victoria Gateway, with the intention of improving the traffic flow and the appearance of the town for visitors. The fifty year old roundabout in front of the station was replaced with traffic signals, and extensive hard and soft landscaping works were carried out to improve the appearance of the area. New trees and paved areas create a new public space where the roundabout used to stand. Better access to the railways station, integration with buses and direct access to the High Street are key features of the scheme, which also includes shared space concepts.
On the seafront at City Beach, further major landscaping works were undertaken to improve the tourist hotspot. This saw the installation of state-of-the-art digital lighting columns. These provide a centrepiece to the attractive area, and bring the seafront alive at night. The scheme replaced the old dual carriageway with a single road and widened promenade and footways and an exciting area of water fountains.
Heading into the heat of Summer, Mr Mathieson said it was hoped that the town would start to see the benefits brought in by the investments. It was also recently announced that Easyjet would start flying from London Southend airport, and that a £10 million hotel would be built at the airport in time for the 2012 Olympics. These will be further, welcome steps to bring a business boost to the town.
With the improved access and appearance of the town, Southend is set to become a revitalised tourist destination.