Apology over Lowestoft bascule bridge fiasco

Traffic chiefs issued a public apology to the people of Lowestoft for failings over the controversial project to repair the town's vital bascule bridge.

Traffic chiefs yesterday issued a public apology to the people of Lowestoft for failings over the controversial project to repair the town's vital bascule bridge.

Highways Agency officials spoke of their regret that work finished a year behind schedule after finally appearing before councillors to be grilled about the problems.

They admitted the �2.3m project should have been planned and carried out more efficiently to reduce the impact on the community.

The Highways Agency addressed local councillors before a meeting of Suffolk County Council's roads and transport scrutiny committee.

The bridge refurbishment project was delayed when contractors found parts of the bridge's lifting mechan-ism were more worn that initially thought, but Guy McGregor, the county council's portfolio holder for roads and transport, said the Highways Agency should have been better prepared.

He said: "There appears to have been an abject failure by the Highways Agency and I hope they do better with future contracts.

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"If I was responsible for a gross failure I would go away, sit in a corner, weep and give up my job. I felt it was that bad."

Mr McGregor also criticised the Highways Agency for poor communi-cation from the outset, revealing that the county council was left to organise public meetings and arrange measures such as extra bus services and a replacement foot-bridge.

The bridge repair project was scheduled to take place between October and December 2007 and involved a series of daytime closures. However, delays saw many further closures throughout 2008 and work was finally completed just before last Christmas.

The bridge carries traffic on the A12 through Lowestoft and the closures caused road chaos, with many businesses reporting a massive drop in trade as a result.

The Highways Agency came under fire for refusing to send officials to a council meeting last November and Mark Bee, chairman of the roads and transport scrutiny committee, said yesterday: "The Highways Agency came at long last and they apologised to the people of Lowestoft for the failures. I think that was important."

The Highways Agency is an executive government agency and the committee agreed to write to ministers, urging it to be opened up to more scrutiny. There were also concerns that the agency had apparently been unable to claim any compensation from its contractors, Bosch Rexroth.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said after the meeting: "The Highways Agency regrets that the planning and implementation of the refurbishment was not carried out more efficiently and, with hindsight, the impact on the local community could have been reduced."

The spokesman said better comm-unications had been established with the county council and added that the bascule bridge would be in a good condition for many years.

Mark Simpson, of Bosch Rexroth, said: "A lot of the issues are attached to the job being more difficult than we initially expected it to be. From our point of view, there is nothing to be answered. We did a good job in sorting out a difficult project."