A MAJOR Dorset route that has been shut for more than two weeks would have been reopened if tarmac plants in the area had not been closed for their Christmas break until January 7.

The A350 Poole Road has been closed in both directions between Crumpets Drive and Castle Farm Road at Lytchett Matravers since December 20 due to a gas leak.

It is not expected to reopen until Tuesday at the earliest.

The work is one of several schemes bringing hold-ups on the day pupils return to school and staff taking an extended Christmas break return to work.

It has prompted the boss of Morebus to renew his call for a “lane rental” system, which would see contractors charged while roads remain shut.

SGN said engineers had “identified a number of leaks” in the gas main under the road.

Rather than repair the individual leaks, the company said it was going to replace a section of its gas network.

SGN started to replace their existing gas main on Wednesday and the company said work was expected to take a few days to allow the metal main to be upgraded with new plastic piping.

In a statement, SGN said: “Once we’ve replaced our pipe, we’ll restore the road surface around our site. We can’t start to restore the road surface until the tarmac plants reopen after their Christmas closures.”

Andrew Wickham, managing director of Morebus, said: “We understand the need for roadworks, but these need to be arranged to minimise delays to bus passengers.

“We strongly urge local authorities in the area to implement a ‘lane rental’ scheme, which allows them to charge utilities for this type of work. This works well elsewhere, such as Southampton, and would encourage more responsible behaviour from companies such as SGN.”

Cllr Peter Webb, who represents Lytchett Matravers on Purbeck District Council, said: “I think everybody would agree that people travelling north-south to Poole and south-north have been inconvenienced.”

He said many drivers were using side roads in the village which were not designed for the traffic.

“I think it’s very difficult when the roads are closed and we know that road isn’t great in the first place,” he added.

He said the work meant the X8 service was being diverted via Corfe Mullen and the company apologised for the delay.

Waseem Hanif from SGN said that all quarries in the area remain closed until Monday, January 7. He said that because the tar had to be delivered at the correct temperature, it could not be made ahead, and work on the road could not be completed.

He said once the plants reopen, SGN would have more information as to when they would be able to fill their excavations and finish the work on Poole Road.

Once SGN has finished their work, the road will be reopened with temporary traffic lights so that Dorset County Council can resume its repairs to the drainage culvert.

The A350 Poole Road remains closed with a signposted diversion in place via the A31 and A35 at Bere Regis.