Action demanded over Lowestoft’s Bascule bridge
FOR 40 years it has tested the patience of even the most laid back of drivers in Lowestoft.
But now the true extent of the disruption caused by the A12 Bascule Bridge has been underlined by official figures which show that it closed for repairs on more than 151 nights over the past five years.
The figures, released after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, also reveal that last year alone there were 21 overnight closures of the bridge, which was designed in 1972 to have a maximum 30-year lifespan.
The long-standing problems – and the resulting impact on the town – have led to new calls for Suffolk County Council to take over the management of the bridge's maintenance from the Department of Transport.
Guy McGregor, the council's portfolio holder for roads and transport, said changes were needed, particularly as a major �2.3m refurbishment on the bridge in 2008 was 'mismanaged', as was subsequent work.
He said: 'I am calling for a new maintenance regime managed by Suffolk County Council. The bridge is vital for the trade and prosperity of the port of Lowestoft so it would be wrong for Suffolk council tax payers to assume the responsibility of ownership.
'What is needed is a contract whereby the Department of Transport retains ownership of the bridge and Suffolk County Council identifies what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and what that cost would be.
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'We will continue to push for change so that we can help improve the road network for people and businesses in Lowestoft.'
However, Mr McGregor's call was rejected by Waveney MP Peter Aldous and his predecessor Bob Blizzard.
Mr Aldous said he felt the Department of Transport and the Highways Agency should carry the can for the bridge problems and should solve them.
He added: 'This problem all stems from when the bridge was refurbished four years ago – and quite frankly the work was not done properly. They (the Highways Agency) got us into this problem and they should get us out of it.'
Mr Blizzard, who was Waveney's MP from 1997 to 2010, criticised Mr McGregor's idea, saying the county council had failed to support the idea of a third river crossing, which would ease Lowestoft's traffic problems.
He said: 'It is not the management of the bridge that is the main problem. The main problem is that Lowestoft cannot function properly with only two places to cross the harbour.'
In response to the FoI request and Mr McGregor's comments, a Highways Agency spokesman said: 'We are aware of how important the Bascule Bridge is to people living and working in Lowestoft and try to keep these closures to an absolute minimum.
'Most closures are planned overnight outside of the main holiday season to minimise disruption. If essential maintenance did not happen the bridge could be unusable for an extended period which would cause major disruption to the port of Lowestoft and road traffic in the town.'