Traders' claim for compensation grows

THE prospect of compensation claims from angry Lowestoft traders increased today after an unscheduled seven-hour closure of the town's bascule bridge sparked more traffic chaos.

THE prospect of compensation claims from angry Lowestoft traders increased today after an unscheduled seven-hour closure of the town's bascule bridge sparked more traffic chaos.

Business leaders have started consulting over the possibility of taking action against the Highways Agency following the latest day of misery caused by a shutdown of the bridge.

It failed to shut yesterday morning after it was raised at 5.15am to let a ship through and did not reopen until about noon.

Long traffic queues were reported across the town, particularly in Oulton Broad, and the problems were exacerbated by the fact that signs warning motorists of the closure were not fully in place until after 9am.

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An investigation has been launched by the Highways Agency into the breakdown, which was caused when a large bolt failed to secure the bridge properly.

Waveney MP Bob Blizzard was told the breakdown happened on a section of the bridge repaired and replaced only last week and said this would provide traders with further ammunition in their fight for compensation.

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Linda Thornton, chief officer of the Lowestoft and Waveney Chamber of Commerce, said: “We have consulted with a number of businesses and are making a decision about the best way forward to get some recompense for the problems.

“This has gone beyond a joke. At the beginning we all recognised the need for the bridge to be repaired and went along with it, but they haven't done what they said they were going to do and it has just gone from bad to worse.”

A £2.3m maintenance programme was started last autumn and should have been completed before Christmas. However, the project was beset with problems and many further closures have hit the town during 2008.

Last week, the Highways Agency and its contractor Bosch Rexroth came under fire after the bridge failed to reopen on time following two scheduled overnight closures.

Yesterday, Mr Blizzard said: “Being closed to midday without anything working will have taken a terrible toll on a lot of people. Lowestoft is hanging by a thread and we can't go on like this.

“They put in a new part last week and something went wrong with that. The question I want to ask is, was that part fitted correctly? If it is found out it wasn't fitted correctly, then this massively increases the scope for claims for damages from aggrieved businesses. My message to people is to prepare claims for compensation.”

Mr Blizzard said he was also angered by the fact it took until nearly four hours after the bridge failed for warning signs to be fully put in place and added that yesterday's chaos added further fuel to his campaign for a third crossing to be built over Lake Lothing.

Peter Smith, area manager for the Highways Agency, apologised for the latest delay and said an investigation had been launched to discover what went wrong.

Responding to the prospect of compensation claims, he said: “I have never known compensation being paid out where we have been carrying out essential maintenance. I don't think there are grounds for compensation in this case, but that avenue can be explored if we receive a claim.”

He accepted that signs warning motorists of the problems should have been put up earlier and said efforts would be made to speed up the process.

The bridge is due for two scheduled overnight closures, between 8pm and 6am, tomorrow and Thursday.

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