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Bridge talks no show attacked

PUBLISHED: 09:43 28 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:53 05 July 2010

TRAFFIC bosses have snubbed a crucial public meeting held to investigate the overrunning work on Lowestoft's bascule bridge.

During a joint scrutiny panel of Suffolk County and Waveney District councils it emerged the Highways Agency's refusal to attend was just the latest in a catalogue of failures to fully communicate with their partners.

TRAFFIC bosses have snubbed a crucial public meeting held to investigate the overrunning work on Lowestoft's bascule bridge.

During a joint scrutiny panel of Suffolk County and Waveney District councils it emerged the Highways Agency's refusal to attend was just the latest in a catalogue of failures to fully communicate with their partners.

The government body claimed the meeting, held at the Orbis Energy Centre, on Tuesday, was not the correct place to discuss the issues.

But their brush-off was met by anger from councillors and people attending.

Waveney councillor Peter Collecott said: “How can we, as a scrutiny committee, effectively scrutinise this very complex item if the main player is not present to answer questions. In other words they are ducking out of their responsibility.

“To my knowledge every other publicly funded body has to be open, transparent and accountable, why should this one be different?”

Malcolm Cherry, panel vice-chairman added: “We have an organisation and authority who are in complete contempt over this issue.”

Andrew Guttridge, strategic commissioner for sustainable transport at the county council, spoke of how the agency's initial consultation and liaison was thorough, but admitted they became exposed when it became clear the work wasn't going to finish on time.

“Everything became reactive and hand to mouth and, to some extent, we still haven't got the full picture of what went wrong.”

Guy McGregor, portfolio holder for roads and transport, added: “The Highways Agency seemed to think the traffic would find its own way around the town.”

Rose Hudson, from the Kirkley Business Association, said: “I'm very annoyed that the bridge works protracted for such a time.”

The agency's project was initially meant to cost £2.3m and involved a series of daytime closures to be completed by December last year.

However, a series of mishaps followed, including replacing some mechanisms that were more worn than first thought, with more day and night closures taking place this year.

Work is meant to be completed next month, but the impact on trade and tourism has caused concern.

Many councillors called for the speeding up of a third crossing, while others asked to know the cost of the overrun of work.

The panel, chaired by Waveney Council leader Mark Bee, agreed unanimously to send a strongly worded letter to the agency about its failure to attend, as well as write to the Secretary of State for Transport asking for the agency's policy to be amended so it is obliged to turn up to future scrutiny meetings.

They also agreed to look into the improvement of the agency's code of practice and the requirement of other organisations, such as Network Rail, to co-ordinate their works with the agency and Suffolk County Council.

Meanwhile, the agency maintained their stance, saying they held regular talks with Waveney Council at action planning meetings, adding that was the appropriate forum for discussions.

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