Minister demands bridge solution

PUBLISHED: 10:30 16 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:23 05 July 2010

The government's roads minister last night stepped into the row over delays to repairs of the Bascule bridge in Lowestoft and pledged to ensure traffic chiefs act to limit further disruption.

The government's roads minister last night stepped into the row over delays to repairs of the Bascule bridge in Lowestoft and pledged to ensure traffic chiefs act to limit further disruption.

Tom Harris spoke after a crunch meeting with the Highways Agency and Waveney MP Bob Blizzard to investigate why the £2.3m maintenance scheme has fallen so badly behind schedule.

It has now emerged there are likely to be fewer remaining overnight closures while the Highways Agency will possibly help with a feasibility study into a third bridge for Lowestoft.

In a statement Mr Harris said: “Bob Blizzard has conveyed his concerns to me on a number of occasions and I can well understand the reasons for his anger. I am aware of the concerns of local people and I will continue to ensure that the Highways Agency works hard to limit the impact of the maintenance work.”

Mr Blizzard contacted Mr Harris after becoming increasingly frustrated by delays to the bridge project, which should have been completed before Christmas.

Further closures during 2008 have caused widespread disruption across Lowestoft and, last week, it was announced another 37 overnight closures would be needed to complete the work.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Blizzard said: “The Highways Agency accepted this has been a disaster in terms of the way it has been handled. They also accepted that there had been some weaknesses with the contract that had allowed the contractor to get away with more closures. There was not sufficient incentive not to have more closures.

“I'm very grateful for the support of the minister in intervening, which has already had the result of a reduction in the number of closures. It was worthwhile taking it to the top.”

The bridge was closed for two nights this week and will be closed, from 8pm to 6am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights of next week.

It is not yet clear how much of a reduction there will be in the work, but it will continue until the end of June and then recommence at the end of September. It is understood the temporary footbridge that allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross Lake Lothing will remain in place after earlier fears it would have to be removed.

The delays occurred after contractors discovered key parts of the bridge were in a worse condition than initially thought and faced difficulties in installing new equipment.

Mr Blizzard said he had also asked the Highways Agency to “compensate” Lowestoft by helping to investigate the feasibility of a third crossing.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said the meeting involving its National Network Operations Director Derek Turner was private and did not respond to Mr Blizzard's comments about the project being a disaster and problems with the contract.

The spokesman also did not respond to reports the number of closures will be reduced, but a statement said: “We have worked closely with the contractors Bosch Rexroth at the highest operational level and have impressed upon them the requirement to complete the work in the shortest possible time. We are sorry for the continued disruption…

“We have agreed that we will investigate the possibility of assisting with a feasibility study into a third crossing and will report back to the minister at the end of May.”

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