Although residents and schoolchildren who use the Kent Elms footbridge have been celebrating the news that the ‘unsafe’ bridge is due to be replaced, their joy has now turned into OUTRAGE after it has emerged that the new pedestrian bridge will charge a toll of 50p per crossing. According to a leaked document that has been seen by Southend News Network, work to replace the ageing structure with an ultra-modern footbridge is due to begin in the near future, but the introduction of the crossing charge for pedestrians is a ‘regrettable but necessary’ decision. According to campaigners, the 50p fee could encourage some people to use the ‘free, but potentially lethal’ ground-level crossing, and demonstrations are already being planned at the site.

We managed to secure an interview with Gerald Gapwick, the head of crossing infrastructure procurement at Southend Borough Council, and he was keen to point out that the toll-based footbridge will deliver ‘fantastic’ value for money to all concerned. He said: ‘While we have been able to promise the people of Southend that the footbridge at Kent Elms will be replaced, we simply have not been able to allocate the funds required for a footbridge crossing that is free at the point of use. The current bridge at the junction has been operating on this basis for a number of years, and it has fallen into a terrible state due to the lack of revenue that it is generating – another similar structure will be a massive drain on the taxpayer. In reality, we have looked at the possibility of stumping up the £8.5m upfront costs to demolish the old bridge and build the new one, and by having automatic gates at each end to collect 50p per crossing the whole project will be paid for once 17,000,000 paying customers have used it. We will consider scrapping the charge in the future, but naturally it may have to be increased or extended if unforeseen maintenance costs are incurred.’

Mr Gapwick added: ‘With the pricing rules that we are looking to introduce, we estimate that around 75% of the crossing’s users will be required to pay the charge – this can be by cash or debit card, with a small 24p fee added for electronic payments. Free Pass Key fobs will be issued to both disabled and lower-income users, and these will allow the holder to cross the bridge for free outside of peak hours that will be confirmed shortly. We believe that this is an innovative way for a local authority to fund a major building project, and if it is successful we may even propose plans to build similar bridges at other pedestrian safety hotspots in the borough.’

Elaine De La Croix has set up a campaign group called CROSS, and she intends to gather as much support for scrapping the charge as possible. She said: ‘The people of Southend deserve the basic human right of crossing a dangerous road without the fear of being struck by a vehicle, and the latest statistics show that executive 4×4 ownership has increased in Leigh On Sea by 67% since the beginning of 2015 – its only a matter of time before someone is seriously killed or worse.’