Retailers rue road closure
CLOSURE of Low Road, Fenstanton, during £5million flood defence work has damaged nearly every retail business in the village, traders say. But, although the road, which links the village with St Ives, will remain closed until work is completed in early Ap
CLOSURE of Low Road, Fenstanton, during £5million flood defence work has damaged nearly every retail business in the village, traders say.
But, although the road, which links the village with St Ives, will remain closed until work is completed in early April, help may be on the way.
The Environment Agency, which is responsible for building the flood defences, says compensation may be available if the traders can prove they have lost business as a result.
Officers from the agency were due to meet local businesses as The Hunts Post went to press yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss the impact of the road closure.
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Traders' spokesman Shirley Mason, who runs an evening wear business in the High Street above The Frock Exchange, a company she sold last October after 22 years in the village, said the takings of all but two of the village's outlets had been damaged by the loss of passing custom.
"Things are very bad in the village, which we are convinced is because of the closure of the Low Road. It seems to have affected all manner of businesses from the dairy to the pub."
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Mrs Mason said she believed the contractors had told the owners of Jones and Son's boatyard, close to where the work is taking place at the St Ives end of the road, that closing the road was necessary for only three days a week.
The Environment Agency denied this. "The surface has been dug up and it's completely impassable," a spokesman explained. "It will be re-surfaced when the work is complete.
"It seems to be going quite well. If we can get it finished ahead of schedule, it will be re-opened before April."
She said compensation had been budgeted for and would be paid to traders if they could demonstrate that they had lost business as a result of the work.
Mrs Mason told The Hunts Post that only one of the village's hairdressers and the farm shop in Chequer Street, most of whose business was local, had not been hit badly by the loss of passing trade or customers' reluctance to use the busy A14 as an alternative to the Low Road.
Takings at Ash's convenience store in the High Street had been down by £200 a day, she said. "We and the bridal shop have found that women, who are obviously our principal customers, prefer not to use the A14," Mrs Mason said. "It's acting as a deterrent even to those who would be prepared to use it, because of the queues at Galley Hill to get onto it from St Ives.
"The dairy's milk floats are taking much longer to get back to the depot and risk running out of juice."
Crystal Lakes, which holds car boot sales every Sunday morning, had had just nine exhibitors last weekend.
"They have had to postpone opening an activity centre there," she said.
"The kitchen shop has been devastated too. Our livelihoods are at stake. Compared with last year, January has been dire.
"Everyone is feeling frustrated and alone."
Scott Dowell, who owns a discount electrical appliance store in the High Street, confirmed that his January takings were down on last year.
And Alan Scarrow, who runs the Mobility Centre in Headlands, with his wife Rosemary, said December and January takings would be significantly down compared with the previous three years.
"We have never had such a bad December. January doesn't look so bad at the moment because the road was reopened over Christmas and the New Year. Sales went up 200 per cent then, but they've dropped off again now.
"Our customers come from far afield, because we have parking and specialist equipment. But most are disabled and many of them over 80, and they are reluctant to use the A14."
Parish council clerk Steve Dartford said the first the council knew of the work was when warning signs were put up by contractors shortly before the road was closed.
"We can only express our concern on behalf of the local businesses but we get the blame shunted between the Environment Agency and the county council, which is the highway authority."
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council said the agency was entitled, as a public utility, to carry out the work and was responsible for appropriate traffic management arrangements. "It would have to be very drastic for us to get involved," he added.