New kerbstones could be seen in place outside Peacocks in Uckfield High Street yesterday as the third day of roadworks drew to a close.
Construction workers were breaking up the surface of the old lay-by outside The Lounge during the afternoon and an alternative route for pedestrians was marked by barriers around the site.
It was heartening to see something new in place, even if it was only kerbstones, because retailers are increasingly worried about the effect of the disruption on their businesses since work began on the £2.5 million project on Monday.
Traffic is restricted to one-way only with southbound vehicles diverted out of town and along the by-pass before being able to return through Ridgewood.
Louise Beard, who runs the hand-painted furniture shop Josefina, posted yesterday on the Uckfield News Facebook page: “I spoke to several business owners and managers this morning and all reported at least a 50% reduction in takings, some as high as 80% – not what small local businesses need.”
Signs say the works could take nine weeks to complete and Louise said that was far too long. “People should still try and use the High Street as much as they can to support local business by parking up at the top of town and walking.”
Final Score Sports Shops, owned by Stephen Holliday, added: “Would be great if everyone gets behind the local businesses in the High Street during this difficult period.
“While not perfect, we do still have a pretty decent high street in comparison with similar towns and all the businesses do try and offer a good range of goods and services at fair prices.
“Please do try to help protect what we have got if you can by keeping your spending in the local economy.”
Louise Jago, from Barney’s Playbarn said it wasn’t just the High Street that was affected. The industrial estate was too. “We at Barney’s have definitely had a reduction in customers the last couple of days.”
Diane Hutt from the Diane Hutt Gallery told UckfieldNews.com that the thought that a second phase of roadworks could take 30 weeks – that’s seven months – was “scary”.
“You could get a new five-mile lane built along the M25 in less time than that,” she said.
Diane agreed that shoppers were staying away. “They are not coming to browse as they usually do but they are still coming when it involves a specific job such as getting pictures framed.”
Kevin Comar at KC News said the roadworks had halved the number of people going into his shop but he had noticed a sharp increase in the sales of newspapers, both local and national. He was increasing his order every day.
Townspeople have huge sympathy for Waitrose which is particularly affected by the roadworks. Southbound traffic is unable to get into the car park and only the most determined motorists will go out to the by-pass and come back into town via Ridgewood.
Katie Brigden said on the Uckfield News Facebook page: “Waitrose car park was almost empty when I parked there at 3.30 in the afternoon, not good.”
Tesco car park was also unusually quiet at about 4.35pm yesterday as rush-hour traffic started backing up along Bell Farm Road while heading for the by-pass.
The project board for the major Uckfield town centre improvement scheme is asking people to bear with them as paving is removed and replaced and new street lighting is installed.
They said delays at peak times in the opening days were not unexpected and asked for patience.
The board is made up of representatives of East Sussex County Council, Wealden District Council and Uckfield Town Council and Cllr Claire Dowling, East Sussex County Council member for Uckfield, speaking on their behalf said: “With any project on this scale there is bound to be some disruption. The board is aware of the delays motorists are experiencing at peak times and is working to try and mitigate them.”
She added: “We would ask people to bear with us while we deal with any problems and I can’t stress enough how important it is that we get the message out that despite the work being carried out, Uckfield remains open for business.”
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