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Rising anger over bridge closures

PUBLISHED: 11:19 12 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:22 05 July 2010

It's a town that has finally lost patience with the traffic chiefs who were supposed to have fixed its vital bascule bridge by as long ago as last Christmas.

It's a town that has finally lost patience with the traffic chiefs who were supposed to have fixed its vital bascule bridge by as long ago as last Christmas.

The people of Lowestoft had put on a brave face when a series of closures of the bridge, which transports traffic over Lake Lothing on the A12, was announced last year.

There was even general acceptance that “things sometimes go wrong” when the Highways Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Transport, admitted its £2.3m maintenance project had suffered delays and would not be completed until March.

However, any lingering goodwill appears to have evaporated into the sea air after last week's revelation that a further 37 overnight closures of the bridge would now be

needed.

In an increasingly bitter and tense situation project managers being summoned to a meeting with the government's transport minister to explain the further delays calls for a public inquiry and reports of traders facing huge losses.

Meanwhile, a statement from the Highways Agency revealed it had been involved in high-level meetings with its contractors Bosch Rexroth and that while it is not “currently” taking legal action, it is “considering what action under the contract it can take”.

But while many meetings take place behind closed doors, businessmen brothers David and John Lock are facing up to the prospect of further financial losses as the bridge closures stretch out over the next few weeks.

Both rely on evening business and have demanded a public inquiry after reporting a fall in trade of up to 50pc during previous shutdowns.

David, who owns the Pizza and Pancake restaurant next to the north side of the bridge, said: “Somebody should be accountable and heads should roll. There should be a public inquiry.

“There will be no more daytime closures, which is fine for the shops, but it is catastrophic in the evening because people avoid the area. There should be some form of compensation for the town, such as

a period of free parking.”

John Lock, who owns 51 Taxis in Harbour Road, added: “There has been no consultation with businesses that rely on night-time trade. We haven't heard anything from anybody. There needs to be a public inquiry.”

The Highways Agency has admitted that parts of the bridge's hydraulic mechanisms were in a worse condition than originally thought, while the installation of new equipment has proved difficult.

A series of daytime closures were held during the earlier stages of the project, but the Highways Agency has pledged to limit existing shutdowns to between 8pm and 6am. Nineteen closures will take place between May 13 and the end of

the June, with the remaining

work resuming in late September following the main holiday

season.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard spoke of his anger at the delays and revealed he would also attend the meeting between the Highways Agency and transport minister Tom Harris, which could take place on Thursday.

“It is a shambles and very damaging for the town. I am very concerned for the evening economy which has really been suffering throughout these overnight closures,” said Mr Blizzard, who indicated he would be pushing for later starts to the overnight work.

“The town has been patient because we knew the job had to be done, but this is beyond what anyone should suffer in terms of disruption to our regular lives. I think the Highways Agency owes it to the town to compensate it in some way.”

Mr Blizzard said the current problems lent huge weight to his campaign for a third bridge to be built over Lake Lothing. He once again urged Suffolk County Council to include the scheme in its local transport plan to improve the chances of securing regional funding.

“It makes the case for a third crossing stronger than it has ever been before. No town should be dependent on some fragile, lifting bridge in order the function properly,” added Mr Blizzard.

But speaking last week, the council's portfolio holder for roads and transport, Guy McGregor, insisted it was the responsibility of central government to put forward projects for trunk roads.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said officials had met “at the very highest operational level” with contractors Bosch Rexroth.

He added: “We consulted with representatives of local people and local stakeholders before carrying out the work and took into account their wishes for a series of short closures rather than two very lengthy ones. This has made what was already a difficult job much harder, with less room for manoeuvre in the timetable.

“We are currently reviewing the cost of the scheme. The share of any additional cost overrun above the £2.3m is the subject of ongoing discussions with the contractor.”

A spokesman for Bosch Rexroth said he could not comment and referred enquiries to the Highways Agency.

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