Customers urged to beat their A14 fears

DON T be afraid of the big, bad A14, village traders are urging customers. It s not as bad as you fear, and we are still open for business. As reported in The Hunts Post last week, shopkeepers and other retail businesses in Fenstanton are concerned that t

DON'T be afraid of the big, bad A14, village traders are urging customers. It's not as bad as you fear, and we are still open for business.

As reported in The Hunts Post last week, shopkeepers and other retail businesses in Fenstanton are concerned that total closure of the Low Road link with St Ives for the second time in two years will be a hammer-blow to businesses.

Two years ago, when the Environment Agency closed the road to build £5million flood defences near Jones's marina, they were compensated for lost trade.

This time, however, there will be no such recompense from Cambridgeshire County Council because it is carrying out a statutory duty in replacing a badly-damaged 100-year-old bridge near the Crystal Lakes leisure complex.


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The £700,000 work started on Tuesday and is scheduled to last until early June, with the road completely closed throughout.

Theoretically, if everything went smoothly, it could be done in 16 weeks if there were no flooding or unforeseen circumstances, county engineer Mike Eatock told an emergency meeting of the traders last week. But 18 weeks was a more likely estimate.

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The county had been forced to re-schedule work before it started due to the flooding in late January, he explained.

Traders asked why each half of the bridge could not be replaced in turn, with one lane remaining open and why the work, which the council has know was needed since 2000, could not have been done at the same time as the flood defences in 2006.

Mr Eatock said the narrowness of the road and the need to protect workers meant the bridge had to be replaced in one go.

Had the work been done two years ago, people living and working in the three-quarters of a mile between the two sites would have been denied access to their homes and workplaces for four consecutive months.

What particularly upsets some of the traders - most accept that the work must be done - is that many of their customers are afraid of the A14, even the half-mile stretch that they would negotiate on the alternative route. This is particularly the case for Shirley Mason's posh-frock-hire emporium above the Frock Exchange, which she used to run, and for Andrew Hibbert, who bought the Orchard Mobility Centre in Rookery Place just before Christmas. The centre specialises in aids and adaptations for disabled people.

"I would not have bought the business if I'd known this was going to happen," he said. "I've already taken a wage cut of 75 per cent."

"We understand the concerns of some drivers about using the A14, but all these things are checked. The route is safe, and it's a very short stretch," said a county council spokesman.

"Unfortunately, there's no choice. The bridge is unsafe and could collapse."

Motor engineer Mo Moussi, whose company Mo's Motors carries out MOT tests for VW-Audi dealer Vindis in St Ives, said many of his private customers were "scared to death" of the A14. "I will be losing a lot of trade," he predicted.

County Councillor Ian Bates has promised to investigate whether traders might be entitled to a reduction in their business rates during the road closure.

A spokesman for the Valuation Office Agency told The Hunts Post: "A reduction in rateable value would be an option only if there was evidence that the road closure had affected rental values in the area.

"For any material change of circumstances, for example a road closure, to affect a rateable value it must be shown that its severity and duration would lead to a reduction in rent.

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