Ipswich/A14: Orwell Bridge safety is suffering from lack of ‘urgency’ from Highways Agency – claims MP

Orwell Bridge Orwell Bridge

Monday, April 7, 2014
7:00 AM

Pressure to overhaul safety measures at the Orwell Bridge to cut the risk of deaths was ramped up after Ipswich MP Ben Gummer slammed the Highways Agency for failing to address concerns.

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Mr Gummer’s intervention comes after a man fell to his death at the bridge last week, pushing the fatality figure at the three-decade old structure to 40 and prompting calls to revamp safety at the A14 site.

A police officer and a motorist reported seeing a man climbing on to the parapet before “going out of view” at around 11.30am on Tuesday.

The man was airlifted to hospital after coastguard teams and a rescue helicopter were called, but it is understood he was pronounced dead at the scene.

In the wake of the tragedy, Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, made the case for introducing anti-climb barriers, CCTV and sensors that trigger an alarm.

Her remarks have been echoed by Mr Gummer, who said he was “not convinced” the Highways Agency – who manage, maintain and improve the country’s major routes – have shown enough urgency to improve matters.

But a Highways Agency a spokesman refuted those claims, insisting they monitor the safety of the bridge and will act on any future recommendations.

It comes after figures released under Freedom of Information laws last year revealed people have either jumped off the Orwell Bridge, or attempted to, almost every seven weeks over three years.

The bridge opened in 1982. Its walls are 1.25metres high, deemed sufficient to prevent people from accidentally falling.

This year, two people have died after falling off the bridge. Police have been called to at least five incidents involving people on the parapet.

Mr Gummer said: “I have written, with Therese, to the Highways Agency asking them to have a reassessment of safety measures around the bridge because I am not convinced that it is working as well as it could.

“I am not convinced they have really looked at it as thoroughly as they should have done. They need to show a greater sense of urgency.

“I have not seen any evidence of them asking to see what other things can possibly be done which would mean fewer deaths.”

He added it was a “pity” that it took “another tragic death” to raise the issue, adding: “It should have been looked at a while ago. It is never going to be (completely safe) but it must be made more difficult (for people to jump). They need to cause delays so people can get to the scene to take them away. That is the critical thing.”

A Highways Agency spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with those affected by the tragic incident on the A14 Orwell Bridge on Tuesday.

“The Orwell Bridge provides an important public right of way across the bridge for pedestrians wishing to cross the estuary.

“Moreover, it allows road users to cross the river without travelling into the busy centre of Ipswich, as well as providing a safe means of access for workers maintaining the bridge.

“The bridge walls are 1.25m high, which is sufficient to prevent people from accidentally falling.

“Samaritan phones are provided on all pedestrian approaches to the bridge for use by people who feel they may need confidential emotional support.

“We will be interested to receive the MP’s comments and will give serious consideration to them.”

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