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High Priority: Priory Park, Southend

"The ancient Priory of Prittlewell must be perpetually used as a public park." With these words in 1917, local businessman Robert Jones donated the area now known as Priory Park in Southend on Sea, Essex, to the local council to stop planners building on it.

However, in yet another example of local councils overruling public interests with commercial ones, the residents of Southend have been fighting council's proposal to widen an existing road through the centre of town at the cost of a significant strip of land and several hundred mature trees in the town's most popular park. Not only does the park contain Prittlewell Priory, founded in 1110 with gardens and fountains, and function as the lungs of the town, it is also an area of wildlife diversity with squirrels, tawny owls, kestrels, two species of woodpeckers, bats, rooks and more.

However in 2001 the local council unveiled plans for the dual carriageway relief road around the northern side of the town centre, despite a previous failed attempt in 1974. But they were unprepared for the local backlash and almost immediately the Priory Park Preservation Society was born, and the campaign was taken up by free local newspaper The Yellow Advertiser. Since then all sections of the community have joined in demonstrations in the park and outside the civic centre. Twelve petitions with over 18,000 signatures were sent to the council, as well as one to Southend's MP Teddy Taylor as The Yellow Advertiser publicised the campaigns. It did a cut-out-and-send coupon campaign, of which the council received 26,000, and initiated the yellow ribbon campaign - with yellow ribbons appearing everywhere from car aerials to bicycles, in peoples' windows as well as around the condemned trees.

In response, the council decided to hold a public consultation (as if they hadn't got the message by now) by sending out calls for public responses in another local rage more likely to tow the party line - Civic News. The response to this, though much smaller was still blatantly opposed. Yet despite the tremendous amount of community action to 'Save Priory Park', all the alternative plans proposed by the council involves some of the park going. They see it as part of the 'regeneration of the town'. There's also the small matter of the Thames Gateway - a plan to create a new freight and commercial port at Shell Haven, the old Shell Oil plant, situated on the Thames estuary between Southend and London, and housing developments to accompany it. It's the usual circus of behind the scenes business deals and backhanders. The campaign continues. Visit www.ppps.org.uk