A SETBACK in a major road bridge replacement project is the reason for the extended closure of the key New Forest route.

The closure of an eight-mile stretch of the A35 comes into force from tomorrow until April 8.

This was longer than initially planned but it is required to ensure “key elements of the project” at Holmsley can be completed to get the new bridge open by summer.

Contractor Knights Brown said an issue with an element of the piling was identified following the completion of a “critical element of the works”. After finding the problem, which was “one of quality”, the part of the works was re-done and subsequently met the required standard.

A spokesperson for Knights Brown said: “We were now some weeks behind schedule and continuing with the original delivery approach would have meant we’d not complete the works before the summer, which is a critical factor not just for Hampshire County Council but local businesses and the community.

“So, our site team took a fresh look at what needed to be done and by revisiting our methodology were able to adjust the programme to deliver the works on schedule. This new approach, which had to be signed off by the highways authorities, means the A35 will be closed from January 4 until April 8.”

As reported, HGVs will be diverted onto the A31, A338 Spur Road, Castle Lane East and Barrack Road, or a 29-mile route along the A326, B3054 and along the A337 to Christchurch.

The official diversion for non-HGV traffic which would have travelled on the A35 is using roads through Highcliffe, New Milton, Lymington and Brockenhurst.

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council said: “For the safety of the site team, and of course road users, the A35 will need to be temporarily closed for a longer period than originally planned in order to facilitate the safe tie-in of the new road alignment over the new bridge to the original road at each end.

“The aim remains to minimise any inconvenience to local residents and businesses and ensure the road is open again for the busier summer period.”

The county council has announced Holmsley Passage from the Wilverley Road and Station Road junction to A35 junction will be closed from tomorrow until June 30 after verges were damaged by motorists choosing not to use the existing diversion routes since work started months ago.

With work on the A31 also ramping up, New Forest organisations have asked drivers to follow the official detours and not deviate onto unfenced roads to get to their destination.

Steve Avery. New Forest National Park Authority’s executive director, said: “If you do travel on the unfenced roads, please take extra care and always be prepared to stop for New Forest animals.

“Animals do not have any road sense so may step out in front of you even if you think they have seen you.

“Other road users might be unfamiliar with the roads so may well be nervous and travel slower, so please allow extra time for your journey.

“Please be patient and don’t overtake unless you can clearly see the road ahead and any animals which may be grazing on the verges.”