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Resort to the law

PUBLISHED: 11:51 20 June 2008 | UPDATED: 20:40 05 July 2010

THE contractors behind work on Lowestoft's bascule bridge could be hit with fines totalling more than £10,000 after causing around six hours of traffic chaos when they failed to open the crossing on time.

THE contractors behind work on Lowestoft's bascule bridge could be hit with fines totalling more than £10,000 after causing around six hours of traffic chaos when they failed to open the crossing on time.

Meanwhile, Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, pictured, has urged people to seek legal advice about the prospects of claiming personal damages.

Last night, the Highways Agency revealed it was to obtain advice on the possibility of suing Bosch Rexroth after major rush- hour disruption yesterday and on Wednesday morning.

The bridge was scheduled for two overnight closures on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and was meant to open at 6am.

Instead, Bosch Rexroth continued to work on it both days for around a further three hours.

To add insult to injury, it shut the bridge to allow a commercial vessel to pass through on Wednesday morning shortly after it reopened.

It emerged that work may not have begun on time on Wednesday evening and that Bosch Rexroth workers downed tools in the middle of the night to let an unscheduled ship pass through.

Peter Smith, area manager for the Highways Agency, said he would investigate whether any compensation could be given back to the town.

“I am very unhappy and disappointed with the contractor's performance on both nights. Within the contract I do have the power to ask that they are penalised with overrunning. That clause says a figure of £2,000 per hour. Separately I am looking for expert advice as to whether our powers within the contract allow us to penalise the contractors anyway with an overrun to this extent. With two-and-a-half hours on Wednesday and three today (yesterday) that will be in the region of £11,000.”

Yesterday Waveney MP Bob Blizzard said he had experienced enough excuses from Bosch Rexroth and urged people to seek legal advice over personal damages.

He said: “This is an outrage. To happen once is awful, but twice is totally unacceptable and crassly incompetent. They are treating the people of Lowestoft with contempt. I feel that the money should be given over to the town to compensate people. Lots of people have lost time and money over this. This bridge is the curse of Lowestoft, no doubt about it. In all this chaos the argument for a third crossing is starker and clearer than it has ever been.”

On Wednesday the bridge finally opened just after 8.30am only to shut again at around 9am for a commercial vessel to pass through. Yesterday the bridge didn't open until 9.10am.

Linda Thornton, chief officer for the Lowestoft and Waveney Chamber of Commerce said they had been tolerant, but this week's episode was beyond a joke. “It's just not good enough, we had no idea about it, we appreciated that the work needed to be done, but this is taking the proverbial.”

Susan Patterson, manager of Chadds in London Road North, said she was absolutely furious, adding that her store nearly didn't open.

“If I hadn't been here we wouldn't have been able to open because all my staff were stuck in traffic, it's completely unacceptable. I very much want people to know that Lowestoft is still open.”

The blunders were put down to problems when replacing the bridge nose bolts, which lock the bridge safely in the down position. It is thought Bosch Rexroth found additional wear and tear when removing them, which could not be seen prior to the work commencing.

Paul Bowden, UK manager for Bosch Rexroth, would not be drawn on the implication of any fines, but said their contract would cover any penalties they were deemed to be responsible for.

Mr Bowden said: “From our point of view over the last two nights we have done a lot of work on the bridge but in certain situations it is impossible to foresee what we have to repair. The nose bolts are huge pieces of equipment to take off and replace. When they came off the bridge we had to rework and remodel them from scratch and it takes some time and our priority is to leave the bridge in a safe condition.”

Mr Bowden denied a late start on Wednesday, but admitted they had to let through a ship at 11pm after discussions earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, Mr Smith said although he had not seen the report, he was led to believe that Bosch Rexroth did not begin work on time Wednesday night.

The final summer closure is due next Wednesday and Thursday between 8pm and 6am, with no more planned until the end of September.

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