THE first shots in the battle to reopen Shoebury East beach have been fired at the MoD by councillors, MPs and officials as concern grows over a lack of action.
The beach has been shut for a fortnight due to fears over public safety after live bombs were found.
A crunch meeting takes place today between MoD and council officials to work out what will be done and when, but policitians are growing increasingly worried the beach could remain closed for some time.
Even Defence Minister Mark Francois, who is MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, wants his MoD colleagues to “understand the sense of urgency” to reopen the beach.
Hes said: “I am conscious of the knock-on effects of this, including on local traders, who are obviously keen to see the beach reopened as soon as possible.
“The council is meeting with officials from the MoD to try to agree a way forward, which will hopefully get the work done as quickly as possible, while also protecting public safety.
“I will be encouraging the MoD to understand the sense of urgency here.”
Council officers have been told to “lay it on the line” to senior defence officials at the first face-to-face meeting as they are worried Shoebury faces a second bank holiday of empty shops and cafes due to a lack of tourism.
But Defence Minister Anna Soubry has admitted the MoD had made no estimate of the economic impact on Southend, blaming the council for the closure.
In response to lobbying by Conservative colleague James Duddridge, MP for Southend East, she said: “The decision to close the beach was made by the council and it will be for it to determine when to reopen it.
“As such, no estimates have been made by the MoD about the economic effect of the council’s decision to the local economy.”
Derek Jarvis, Southend councillor responsible for the beach, said: “These are completely unsatisfactory answers.
“We expect council officers to lay it on the line to those facing us at the meeting. This position is not good enough.”
Shoebury councillor Roger Hadley said: “East Beach belongs to the public and we can’t go all summer without the beach being available.
“We have already had an awful lot of disappointed visitors.”
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Scott Dolling, the council’s acting head of economy, regeneration and tourism, said: “I expect to be given a clear timetable on the work to survey and make safe the licensed area of the beach, and to continue to press the need for a swift resolution, given the effects to local businesses, residents and visitors.”