This morning I asked the Transport Secretary to communicate very clearly to Highways England Ipswich’s expectation that a speed limit solution to the closures is in place before the next windy winter period. The closures of the Orwell Bridge grind our town to a halt and cause immense disruption to residents and businesses alike. And this was something that came across very clearly in the responses to my surveys in Ravenswood and Chantry recently. It was good that in response to my question the Transport Secretary did send the message very clearly to Highways England today that the timetable mustn’t slip.
He also mentioned the safety work being done by Highways England in a wind tunnel. This wind tunnel was closed due to Covid-19 but I was able to get the work prioritised after I sent a letter to the University in question. I’m glad the Transport Secretary is also expecting this on his desk by the end of this month. I’ve got another progress call with Highways England next month where I’ll be sure to raise the results of the wind tunnel work and the timetable. The pressure on Highways England to deliver must be kept up as we reach the crucial point in this campaign.
I have now received an email in response to my letter to City University about the wind tunnel. I am glad that it looks like the appropriate work in relation to the Orwell Bridge will now take place next month which should allow the timetable regarding the introduction of the new speed limit that will help keep the bridge open during windy spells to be hit. This is all rather protracted but I will continue to keep my eye on things and update.
Once this final validation is secured that its safe to keep the bridge open during windy spells with a new 40pmh speed limit then we will move a big step forward towards ending the chaos associated with constant bridge closures
Following my meeting with Highways England earlier this month, today I asked the Secretary of State for International trade to work with HE to implement their plan to end closures of the Orwell Bridge by the end of this year. With the Port of Felixstowe, East Anglia should be at the heart of our country’s ambitious trade plans but that potential won’t be fully realised until road freight and our town aren’t brought to a standstill when it’s windy.
This issue deserves national attention and I hope the Secretary of State will recognise the national significance of getting the 40 mph speed limit solution in place as soon as possible and pull all necessary strings to ensure that happens. I’ve written already to City University to ask them to move ahead as quickly as possible to complete the additional safety work in their currently closed wind tunnel. But I’ll keep raising this issue at the highest levels to ensure that it’s treated with the urgency needed and the timeline doesn’t slip.
Following last week’s meeting with Highways England on implementing the speed limit solution to the closures of the Orwell Bridge, I have now written to City University of London about the urgency of getting their wind tunnel up and running to complete the final safety checks.
The wind tunnel is currently closed and I do have concerns that this could become an issue which causes the timeline for implementing the solution to slip. That’s why it’s important we get on top of this now.
I appreciate that City University is dealing with Covid-19 pressures but I have asked the President of the University to ensure that work starts on this important piece of work as soon as possible. We mustn’t go into the windiest months of another year without a solution in place.
I have just posted off a letter to Highways England regarding the current situation with the Orwell Bridge, I have sent a copy of my letter to the Transport Secretary. This follows the recent publication of the report into the Orwell Bridge by Highways England and recent closures. Though on the one hand its good to see that this time next year there will likely be no more wind related closures of the Orwell Bridge because of the new speed restriction, it is frustrating that it will likely take an extended period of time for these new measures to be introduced, meaning that in the short term there will be no relief.
I do not believe that Highways England have embraced this issue with the urgency required. Closures of the bridge cause major disruption for my constituents and taking 14 months to produce the study was unacceptable. You can understand that when Highways England massively overrun on the time they said it would take to produce the report, that many of us are concerned that Highways England will take a long time to introduce the measures outlined in the study. In my letter I have been clear that I will be monitoring the situation closely and would like to have regular meeting to check progress. Some of the contents of the report were encouraging but we need quick action, not more dithering and delay. The reality is that the wind this weekend was so strong that even with a reduce speed limit this weekend closure may have been necessary.
Not all closures of the wind are linked to the strength of the wind and many other factors connected to the Bridge clearly need to be explored. Its also very frustrating to be told that introducing a 40mph speed limit is the solution when this could have been done years ago and how much disruption and damage to the local economy could have been avoided?
I remember last October when it was announced that Highways England had commissioned an aerodynamics study looking at the ways in which closures of the Orwell Bridge could be minimized and what measures could be introduced to prevent closures of the bridge at times of high winds.