EVESHAM'S Abbey Bridge will remain closed until the end of March, it has emerged.

In the last few minutes Worcestershire County Council has confirmed the repair work will carry on until an estimated completion date of Monday, March 31.

The news is a fresh blow for traders, residents and visitors to the market town, and follows previous delays which saw the original re-opening target of the start of December scrapped.

The bridge and viaduct was first closed in September last year for vital reconstruction work, and at the time assurances were made that it would re-open in time for the Christmas shopping rush.

But 22 days of work were lost due to bad weather, with wind gusts affecting a crane, and river flows being too strong for the river boats to work.

There were also technical issues with the arch supports to the bridge deck which compounded the delays.

Contractors Hochtief has now re-sequenced the work left, and says every effort will be made to beat the new target of March 31.

The remaining work includes the completion of the new concrete bridge deck and the adjacent viaduct deck, demolition of the old bridge arches, waterproofing of the complete structure, safety barrier installation, kerbs, re-instatement of service ducts, footpath construction, road surfacing, road markings and the commissioning of traffic signals.

Councillor John Smith, cabinet Member for highways and transporation and a politician in Evesham, said: "I've made it clear previously the delays to the re-opening of the Abbey Bridge and Viaduct are extremely disappointing and fall outside the agreement in place with the contractor.

"Myself, Sir Peter Luff MP, county council Leader Councillor Adrian Hardman and senior officers met with Hochtief's managing director just before Christmas to emphasise the importance of getting the link open as quickly as possible because of the impact it's having on the town.

"The contractor gave its reassurance that it understood the situation and would make every effort to get it re-opened as early as it could.

"This confirmation by Hochtief of the revised timetable of works and re-opening date will offer some clarity on the situation for the residents and traders of Evesham.

"We've impressed upon them the need for the programme to include measures that take into account the potential for adverse weather to ensure no further delays are encountered and assurances have been made this has happened.

"We totally understand the feelings of frustration people have because of the delays to the Abbey Bridge and Viaduct closure.

"The council will continue to do it all it can to support businesses until the link re-opens.

"The half-price bus fare offer to and from the town centre, which was due to finish at the end of 2013, will remain in place and we'll continue to work with Wychavon District Council to fund the parking discounts in its car parks.

"The diversion route will also continue to be manually controlled throughout the closure to aid traffic flows and reduce congestion.

"I've said it many times before but the sentiment remains the same.

"I'd like to thank everyone who is supporting our town and traders. I'm sure this will continue until this project is completed."