Two Suffolk MPs have met with National Highways over the 17-hour closure of the Orwell Bridge earlier this month – and say they have been given assurances it will not be repeated.

On Friday, December 1 there was chaos in Ipswich and on the A14 after planned roadworks overran on the eastbound carriageway of the bridge.

This was due to broken-down machinery being unable to be moved underneath the bridge, with a specialist vehicle required to travel from North Yorkshire to carry out repairs before the bridge reopened.

Ipswich Star: The broken down machinery blocked part of the A14The broken down machinery blocked part of the A14 (Image: National Highways)

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said following the chaos he asked for an urgent meeting with National Highways to explain the disruption.

Ipswich Star: Tom Hunt MPTom Hunt MP (Image: Tom Hunt)

During the meeting, which happened on Thursday morning and was also attended by Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, a spokesman for National Highways told Mr Hunt from now on there will be specialist engineers on site when inspections on the bridge take place.

Mr Hunt said he felt the 17 hours it took to get the machine moved was unacceptable.

He was told at the meeting this is the first time the specialist vehicle (platform crane vehicle) carrying out the inspection had suffered a “catastrophic failure”.

There are only four of these vehicles in the country.  

The failure happened in the early hours of December 1 – but it was not until 9am that there was an engineer on the scene.

There was a further wait until 6pm for an engineer with adequate specialist knowledge to arrive at the scene. 

Ipswich Star: Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey met with National HighwaysIpswich MP Tom Hunt and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey met with National Highways (Image: Office of Tom Hunt)

All in all, the eastward section of the bridge was closed for 17 and a half hours.

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce had previously estimated the closure of the bridge led to a financial hit in the seven figures for the county's firms.

National Highways said the bridge would have been safe for regular vehicles, but not lorries and made a decision in conjunction with Suffolk police that it wouldn’t be possible to separate lorries from regular vehicles. 

Dr Coffey said she raised concerns with Mr Hunt about the diversion route used when there are closures.

Ipswich Star: Thérèse Coffey MPThérèse Coffey MP (Image: PA)

Mr Hunt said: “It was a worthwhile meeting.

“I understand that accidents and breakdowns happen from time to time but that doesn’t mean the response to what happened was in anyway acceptable.

“Ultimately what happened causes great disruption to thousands of my constituents and so many businesses.

“There wasn’t enough resilience and it’s clear to me that certain steps could have been taken to minimise the disruption that was caused. 

“However, I was pleased to hear that there is a clear plan from National Highways to ensure there is no repeat.” 

Dr Coffey added: "While unfortunate series of circumstances led to the unacceptably long response, it was a useful meeting with Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and senior managers from National Highways and the Department for Transport.

"While there are further questions to be taken up on traffic diversion routes and also with Suffolk police, it is good that lessons have already been learned for the future on resilience."

A National Highways spokesman said: "We welcomed today’s meeting with Tom Hunt MP – it gave us the opportunity to fully explain what happened with the recent closure of the Orwell Bridge and make assurances that we will do all we can to avoid a repeat situation in the future.”

Renewed calls for a Northern Bypass followed the chaos on the Orwell Bridge.

Mr Hunt in October said he was in favour of the bypass project, which was shelved almost four years ago due to a lack of support.