Cost of bridge mayhem

PUBLISHED: 10:15 18 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:49 05 July 2010

A hard-hitting report last night revealed the true impact of repeated closures of Lowestoft's bascule bridge on the town's traders and business community.

A hard-hitting report last night revealed the true impact of repeated closures of Lowestoft's bascule bridge on the town's traders and business community.

A huge fall in the number of shoppers visiting the town and evidence of businesses having to shut down were among revelations contained in documents prepared in advance of a major meeting next week.

The Highways Agency, which is in charge of the delayed £2.3m bridge repair project, has also sparked an angry response after it emerged it would not be sending any officials to the public meeting on Tuesday.

Traders were asked to submit evidence how the closures have affected them and one of the respondents was the manager of the town's Britten Centre, who produced figures showing it lost 110,000 shopper visits during a nine-week spell at the end of last year.

Neil Fincham estimated the 20pc fall, which happened during the initial phase of bridge closures, could have cost shops in the region of £600,000 in lost trade as people stayed away from the town centre.

He said: “It is fair to say that the impact on businesses has been significant. We've been running these footfall figures for seven or eight years and the statistics don't lie.”

The repair project should have finished before Christmas last year, but suffered long delays after contractors discover parts of its mechanism were more worn that previously thought. It is hoped work will finally be completed by December 5.

Mr Fincham, who believed the impact on the Britten Centre was a good barometer for the rest of the town, added: “It has been like Chinese water torture with a constant drip of yet more bad news.”

Tuesday's scrutiny meeting, which will be held at the Orbis Energy centre from 10.30am, has been called by Waveney District and Suffolk County councils the opportunity to investigate the planning and managing of roadworks in the county.

Paul Bayfield, managing director of Bushells Bakery, said there had been fall in trade of about 8pc at its six shops in the town.

He added: “It has had quite a profound impact on us and made everyone aware that, unfortunately, we are a town of two halves.”

Carolyn Reeder, chairman of the High Street Traders' Association, said a combination of bridge closures and higher car park charges had seen many shoppers go to Beccles instead.

Her report adds: “It is going to be difficult to persuade our customers to come back to Lowestoft. Meanwhile, many businesses have ceased trading and the streets are empty.”

Waveney District Council leader Mark Bee spoke out at the Highways Agency's decision not to attend the meeting.

He said: “It is disappointing that the Highways Agency is not going to rise to the challenge of defending their position.”

Malcolm Cherry, chairman of Waveney's overview and scrutiny committee, added: “I feel they are failing the community by not coming to the meeting.”

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said officials were aware of the concerns of businesses, but that the appropriate place for them to discuss matters was at action planning meetings involving several organisations.

She added: “Before work started on this essential project, we consulted with local stakeholders… and took into account their wishes for a series of short closures rather than one or two very lengthy ones. This has made what was already a difficult job much harder, with less room for manoeuvre in the timetable.”

She apologised for the continued disruption and said officers were currently discussing with the Department of Transport if they should be represented at future scrutiny meetings.

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