Minister acts over bridge closure

PUBLISHED: 10:08 24 April 2008 | UPDATED: 20:13 05 July 2010

A government minister has intervened in the long-running saga of delayed repair work to Lowestoft's Bascule Bridge, in a bid to achieve a speedy conclusion to the project.

A government minister has intervened in the long-running saga of delayed repair work to Lowestoft's Bascule Bridge, in a bid to achieve a speedy conclusion to the project.

Transport minister Tom Harris stepped in after being contacted by Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, who has become increasingly frustrated by the impact of the over-running Highways Agency scheme.

In a letter to Mr Blizzard, the minister recognised the devastating impact closures of the bridge have had on the town and pledged there would be no more daytime shutdowns, despite contractors needing to make up lost time on the £2.3m project.

Mr Harris said: “I share your concern about the delay to the scheme and the impact of the bridge closures on the community in Lowestoft, and have made inquiries with the Agency.

“The Agency is fully aware of the importance of the Bascule Bridge to the economy and life of the town. I can assure you that the Agency is doing all it can to conclude the works as quickly as possible and mitigate the disruption caused to local businesses and the travelling public.

“It is now apparent that a larger number of overnight closures will be required to complete the renewal tasks. The contractor has been told that no more daytime closures of the bridge will be permitted and was instructed to provide a firm programme of dates for agreement of all necessary closure periods to complete the works.”

These dates have yet to be finalised and earlier this week, Mr Blizzard urged the Highways Agency, which is an executive agency of the Department for Transport, to publicise the closures as soon as possible.

The project to repair and replace the bridge's hydraulic mechanisms should have been completed before Christmas, but was delayed after key parts were found to be in a much worse condition that originally thought.

A series of 58-hour closures took place during last autumn and winter and were followed up by three further sets of daytime shutdowns - the longest of which last four days - during the early part of this year.

Additional problems with the new hydraulic unit, which operates the bridge, and difficulties with installing equipment have caused more delays for main contractors Bosch Rexroth.

The bridge closures have sparked widespread disruption across the Lowestoft area for motorists and traders. While the daytime operations have been well-publicised there has been criticism of the Highways Agency that some overnight closures have taken place at short notice and damaged the trade of those reliant on the night-time economy.

Mr Blizzard said: “I'm pleased that the minister has looked into this and that he shares my concerns. It's obvious he has stepped in and given the Highways Agency something to focus its attention and bit more.

“We have now got this commitment that there will be no more daytime closures, which will be welcome, and the commitment that the contractor will be pinned down to a proper programme of closures. They have got to get on with the job and complete the contract with minimum disruption.

“Mr Harris had laid down the law and given them instructions to get on with it, but in a way that the people of Lowestoft know about. The minister has smartened them up and brought them to order.”

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said it did not wish to add to Mr Harris's comments.

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