Controversial A371 closure plans put on hold until January 2013
Controversial plans to repair a railway bridge and close the busy A371 road in Somerset for up to 19 weeks have been put on hold until the New Year.
Network Rail has announced today that the work, originally due to start next Monday, will now begin on Monday, January 7, 2013.
The announcement follows a stormy public meeting at the Brook House Inn at Alhampton last night, where more than 200 angry residents, shopkeepers, councillors and businessmen bombarded rail bosses with complaints.
A Network Rail spokesman said: "We have postponed these essential repairs in recognition of the strength of feeling expressed at last night’s meeting and the impact the works will have on local businesses and the community.
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"This four-month delay will now give them ample time to draw up their contingency plans.
"We are planning to set up a generic mailbox to capture concerns from the local community. The address for this will be publicised as soon as possible."
The 19-week programme of essential repairs to Ansford Bridge, near Castle Cary Railway Station, will now take place between January 7 and May 20, 2013.
The closure will mean an 18-mile detour for all traffic while repairs are carried out.
The A371 at Ansford Bridge should fully re-open to traffic on Monday, May 20, but Network Rail will need to agree the new road closure dates with Somerset County Council.
"This is the sensible and the right thing to do," said Somerset County Council cabinet member Bob Little.
"We are welcoming this change of heart as it is a victory for common sense.
“We have seen the community in action and we have had acknowledgement that Network Rail got this wrong, they failed to consult with the community and they have apologised.
"They have made the right decision to delay this work so they can put all that right, consult properly and treat our residents and business people fairly."
At last night's meeting, Castle Cary traders argued they might as well shut up shop now as the September road closure would have threatened them with financial ruin in their busiest time of the year in the run up to Christmas.
And road hauliers and food company bosses with operations across the area backed the protests saying the extra fuel costs, time and inconvenience incurred by the detour, could cripple their industry.
Paul Hooper, administrator at the Bath and West Showground which runs events all year round, said they had been given no notice at all – and neither had the AA.
This weekend sees the Motorhome Show at the Showground – one of the biggest motor home events in Europe.
“I have 7,000 motor homes leaving the showground on Monday morning – what are you going to do about them?” he demanded.
Ansford Academy pupils face being stuck for up to three hours a day on buses taking them to and from school via the long detours, the angry meeting heard.
The protesters said while they appreciated the work had to be done to make the bridge safe, they deplored the lack of public consultation.