Windy January leaves drivers fuming at third Orwell Bridge closure

The Orwell Bridge has closed for over four hours today. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Orwell Bridge has closed for over four hours today. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Drivers and businesses in and around Ipswich were left frustrated again as the Orwell Bridge closed for the third time in 2018.

Highways England closed the bridge between 10am and 2pm as winds were recorded gusting up to 60mph at the top of the structure.

It was the second closure in a week and the fourth of the winter – the bridge was shut overnight in November as wind speeds rose. At least this time the closure did not affect rush-hour traffic.

Each time it has closed Highways England insisted it had to be shut on safety grounds – and statistics from Norwich-based Weatherquest suggest January has been a very windy month.

Before yesterday there had been two days in 2018 when wind speeds had exceeded 60mph in East Anglia. In the whole of 2017 that figure was exceeded only three times. The bridge was only shut once because of high winds last year in November – and that was between 10pm and 5.30am so disruption was minimal.

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Looking further back the disruption to the bridge was less – between January 2011 and September 2016 it was only closed by bad weather a total of five times.

A spokesman for Highways England said: “We have used the same forecasting and the same criteria. There have simply been more occasions where the wind has reached the safety threshold.”

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He said the agency was anxious to avoid closing the bridge if at all possible but the safety of drivers had to be paramount.

The closures of the bridge have prompted concern within the Ipswich business community – and are set to be brought up at a meeting between the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Highways England that has been scheduled for Friday.

Chamber marketing manager Paul Simon said: “This hat-trick of Orwell Bridge closures in the first few weeks of 2018 makes this a national issue that can no longer be ignored.

“Highways England MUST bring forward their plans to separate high-sided vehicles from others when the bridge is closed in order to mitigate the full frontal impact on Ipswich and the areas around.

“We are meeting with Highways England on Friday at the next No More A14 Delays in Suffolk Strategy Board and will be repeating our call for solutions to be delivered by them to address this mounting problem.”

The managing director and founder of one of Suffolk’s most successful logistics and warehousing firms has praised the flexibility of the county’s businesses after three closures of the Orwell Bridge in as many weeks.

Steve Britt, who founded Debenham-based Anchor Storage with his father in 1987, has totalled up the costs of delayed deliveries and additional storage costs from this year’s closures and puts them at tens of thousands of pounds to his business and that of his clients.

He said “The real story of these closures is way in which local businesses, including our own, has adapted and thought ahead both to minimise losses and not to put additional pressure on Ipswich’s roads.

“The Port of Felixstowe has perfected its procedures ahead of the types of weather likely to trigger Highways England to close the Bridge and ensures that vehicle bookings for either the collection or delivery of cargo containers are restricted to minimise congestion at the port.

“Equally, local hauliers have become smarter at making their deliveries at different times of the day and night to ensure they are not caught up in gridlocked roads.”

He said Anchor Storage’s own approach has also become even more flexible including the laying on of early and/or late shifts to ensure that delayed shipments can still be received or dispatched when congestion eases.

“We all need Highways England to show the same level of imagination and forward planning and as a matter of urgency implement a separation system for high-sided vehicles and earlier use of traffic message boards on both the A14 and A12 leading into Ipswich.

“If the private sector can adapt and change its ways of working, it worries me that Highways England seems both slow and reluctant to do so.”

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