LOCAL residents have reacted with shock, anger and dismay that one of the main routes north to Worcester from Ledbury, the B4214 Bromyard Road, will be closed for at least three months this winter, because of urgent bridge repairs.

The closure to repair the iron Storesbrook Bridge, near Staplow, could run into a fourth month and will pose significant problems for commuters, bus services, lorry drivers and parents on school runs.

Most will have little choice but to use narrow country lanes as diversions routes, because the road will be closed at Staplow, close to the Victorian bridge.

Herefordshire Council is promising further information about diversions in the near future, but local people are already raising serious concerns about how the closure will affect them.

Clive Gunn, posting on the Voice of Ledbury Facebook site said: “It will make the journey to and from school much more dangerous as large vehicles and small cars are forced to use unsuitable roads. Anyway, why so long? How many hours a day will they work? Will they work weekends? The army can build a bridge from scratch in hours. They can remove and replace a bridge over the M25 in a weekend. So why is it taking 16 weeks?"

Hayley Boswell said: “This will be a nightmare for people with children at Bosbury Primary, or at Ledbury Primary if you live in Bosbury."

Other residents are concerned about bus routes.

Julia Coole Peckham said: “I assume that the buses going in that direction will be cancelled, such as the one which goes to Worcester via Bosbury and Cradley? If they are cancelled for as long as four months is there a danger that some will not be reinstated and just forgotten about. I hope not!”

A Herefordshire Council spokesman said: “Public and school buses are aware of the work and further details will be communicated in the near future.”

But at present, there seems little option but to reply on country lanes and roads for diversions, raising the prospect of “rat-running” motorists and lorries through rural communities, including nearby Wellington Heath.

Former Ledbury town mayor, Bob Barnes said: “The HGVs will be routed on "A" roads, probably via Trumpet, Newtown and Bishops Frome. This just demonstrates the lack of rural infrastructure. There is no alternative.”

But local residents are very concerned about the inconvenience involved in making journeys north or driving from the north back to Ledbury.

Sarah Jones said: “So to avoid the traffic I'm going to have to go to Trumpet, Ashperton to Newtown crossroads and then right towards Ledbury at Bishops Frome crossroads? Nightmare. I imagine going through Wellington Heath to Bosbury will be tricky too.”

Council contractor, Balfour Beatty Living Places will begin works for the installation of a new bridge deck across Storesbrook Bridge, over the River Leadon, on November 1.

A Herefordshire Council spokesman said: “The bridge, built in 1901, has reached the end of its working life and will be closed for approximately 16 weeks to accommodate replacement works.

“In order to keep the closure as short as possible, a new pre-fabricated steel deck section will be built off-site and then lowered into place once the old bridge deck has been demolished. New safety barriers will also be installed on the approaches to the bridge, which is on a 90-degree bend, to reduce the risk of vehicles entering the river.”

Councillor Barry Durkin, Herefordshire Council cabinet member for transport and regulatory services, added: “The bridge is used every weekday by an average of 3,218 vehicles and we appreciate that its closure will cause significant disruption to local traffic and businesses, including parents taking children to Bosbury Primary, or the John Masefield High School, for which we apologise in advance.

“We have consulted local farmers and businesses and have thus delayed work to November. This will ensure that the majority of harvest traffic movements can be completed before diversions are put in place.”