ONE of Southampton's busiest bridges will be closed for nearly six months for 'major reconstruction' work.

Central Bridge will be shut from March 31 for 24 weeks to replace a failing waterproof layer that protects the 130-year-old brick structure.

Without it the bridge is likely to deteriorate quickly and it would then require much more significant renovation and reconstruction in the future.

The repairs have been funded by government money, which is part of a wider programme to preserve and maintain several bridges and structures in Southampton over the next year.

The reason the work on the bridge has to be closed for a long-period of time is that the government funding for the roadworks is conditional on the work being completed to a 'challenging timescale'.

The closure was previously set to happen last year, but that was cancelled because of the £1.7m project to create a Dutch-style cycle route linking Woolston to the city centre.

Cars and cyclists will now have to use a diversion route through Albert Road North, while the work, which is set to end in September, takes place.

Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, Cllr Jacqui Rayment, said: “This is essential work to preserve this historic bridge, which is a vital link into Southampton city centre.

“Key to all the current major highway work is the need to improve and enhance transport links into and around Southampton, which will support the future economic growth of our city.”

The closure of Central Bridge comes as the city is currently in the midst of major work on its transport network.

Currently £20m worth of improvement work is taking place on the railway line between Southampton Central and Redbridge means passengers have to use a rail-replacement bus service until May, while the Platform for Prosperity project has seen continual roadworks on Platform Road.

Deputy leader and Tory candidate for Southampton City Council, Royston Smith, criticised the closure.

He said: “I think the closure could cause the city to grind to a halt, if all this roadwork and railwork is happening around the same period.”

“I cannot understand why any Government grant has to start on March 31.I understand that if the government gives you money to do repairs then you have usually got to do it. But there comes a point at where the cost of doing it outweighs the importance of the work itself.”

“When you could have people sitting in cars for hours on end, when you have a loss of business production it is bad for the city's reputation and the cost of that outweighs the government grant.”

A spokesman for the AA said “Southampton seems to be plagued by roadworks after roadworks, drivers probably think at what time will this end?”