The lengthy closure of the Orwell Bridge near Ipswich last week cost Suffolk firms in excess of £1million, business leaders have said.

The key A14 route was shut for most of last Friday after planned overnight repairs overran due to a broken-down inspection vehicle.

This meant that a specialist machine had to be transported about 250 miles from North Yorkshire to Suffolk to fix the problem and allow the bridge to reopen to drivers.

But the closure caused serious traffic issues in the wider Ipswich area throughout the day.

There have since been renewed calls for the Ipswich Northern Bypass project to be looked at once again in a bid to alleviate the town's traffic issues when the Orwell Bridge is shut off.

Those plans were put on ice in January 2020 as Suffolk County Council said there was a lack of support for the scheme.

Paul Simon, head of public affairs at Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, expressed his anger at the closure of the bridge.

Ipswich Star: Paul Simon, of Suffolk Chamber of CommercePaul Simon, of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce (Image: Newsquest)

He said: "Not only is news footage of a gridlocked A14 and Ipswich a really bad look in terms of attracting inward investment to our county, it also costs real companies real losses, each and every time it happens.

"The cause of this particular closure was very much a specific and embarrassing own goal by National Highways, and we look forward to them putting better contingency plans in place to avoid such catastrophic delays in future.

"However, the systemic lack of resilience in our sub regional road network around Ipswich and onwards through the county to the rest of the country is costing Suffolk’s hard-pressed businesses dear month in, month out -  and not just on Friday

"Suffolk Chamber has been inundated by members informing us of the costs of last week’s closure: from hospitality companies that experienced a direct downturn in custom on Friday night to care providers unable to reach their clients and education institutions unable to deliver lessons and practical classes to their students.

"One of our logistics and transport members reported that they had directly lost £30k as a result: £20k in sales through failed deliveries to customers and another £10k in failed collections of goods originally scheduled for delivery this week.

"In short, Suffolk Chamber estimates that Friday’s case of economic vandalism – unintentional though it may have been – cost local firms well into seven figures."

Terry Baxter, chair of Ipswich Central, added: "Friday morning's unexpected closure of the Orwell Bridge is exacerbating the challenges faced by our town centre.

Ipswich Star: Terry Baxter, chair of Ipswich CentralTerry Baxter, chair of Ipswich Central (Image: Ipswich Central)

"Ipswich is already striving to entice visitors to shop in the crucial lead-up to Christmas, and such disruptions only intensify the pressure on our local retail and hospitality sectors.

"As Ipswich Central chair, I have reached out to National Highways seeking reassurance that there will be no further 'chaotic' disruptions stemming from works exceeding their allotted time during these ongoing repairs.

"Additionally, I emphasise the importance of timely and regular communication to keep our community informed regarding bridge closures and any potential future incidents.
The bridge closing has a devastating impact on our town, and this is a historical problem. 

Ipswich Star: The Orwell Bridge was closed for most of Friday last weekThe Orwell Bridge was closed for most of Friday last week (Image: Newsquest)

"We need a sustainable and long-term solution for this reoccurring problem and need it now."

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has also voiced her concerns – and said she had contacted the boss of National Highways over the matter.

"I've emailed the National Highways CEO and asked for a meeting.

Ipswich Star: Suffolk Coastal MP Therese CoffeySuffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey (Image: Charlotte Bond)

"The lack of resilience is ridiculous. Equipment can and does break down, especially if not well maintained, but the inappropriate backup is unacceptable with its hindrance for families and its harm to the local and national economy."

Steven Thulborn, head of planning and development for National Highways in the East, said: "We are sorry for the inconvenience and frustration the extended emergency closure of the eastbound carriageway of the A14 had on people across Suffolk.

"The highly specialised vehicle being used by our contractors – a 38.5 tonne underbridge inspection unit – which has a hydraulic extending ‘arm’ that stretches out and under the bridge’s surface failed. This effectively tied the vehicle to the bridge.

Ipswich Star: The machine to fix the issue had to be transported down from North Yorkshire to SuffolkThe machine to fix the issue had to be transported down from North Yorkshire to Suffolk (Image: National Highways)

"The essential bridge inspection, which was being carried out when the incident happened, is a vital part of ensuring the strategic road network is maintained and improved.

"While we meticulously plan, some issues you encounter – like those we faced on Friday – cannot be quickly solved irrespective of wide-reaching contingency planning.

"The last thing we want is for anyone to be stuck in traffic. As you would expect we will examine every aspect of the circumstances and if there is any learning, we will take that forward."