Traders react to link road closure

A FENSTANTON trader has extended his business hours to combat the commercial impact of the four-month closure of the village s Low Road link with St Ives. Andrew Hibbert, who bought the specialist Orchard Mobility Centre in Rookery Place just before Chris

A FENSTANTON trader has extended his business hours to combat the commercial impact of the four-month closure of the village's Low Road link with St Ives.

Andrew Hibbert, who bought the specialist Orchard Mobility Centre in Rookery Place just before Christmas last year took the decision to combat the detours his customers now have to make if they are unwilling to use a short stretch of the A14.

The centre supplies scooters, wheelchairs and hundreds of other items, including kitchenware and toilet and bathroom equipment to improve the quality of disabled people's lives inside and outside their homes.

He said: "Many of our clients are elderly and therefore nervous of the A14. I have suggested to several that they go up to Hilton and come back to the village that way.


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"But, in fact, the A14 is not too bad away from rush hours and is much quieter on a Saturday. So we are now open all day from Tuesday to Friday from 9.30am to 4.30pm and on Saturday mornings as well." The shop previously opened from 10am until 3pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Traders in the village met on Monday to discuss ways of alerting customers to the fact that the village is still open for business while Cambridgeshire County Council does urgent £700,000 repairs to the White Bridge on Low Road. The work is scheduled to finish early in June, but has already had to be re-programmed to maintain the schedule, project manager Mike Eatock told the meeting.

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The county council is exploring ways to help minimise the impact on trade, which has already been severe for some businesses.

Postmaster Vikrant Sharma is particularly worried because Post Office Limited is conducting a review that will lead to the closure of 2,500 post offices nationwide. Its review of Cambridgeshire's service is going on now, leading to public consultation in the spring.

Mr Sharma fears it will not take account of the temporary distortion of business, but the company has promised The Hunts Post that it would consider activity over a longer period.

Mr Sharma told the meeting of a clear reduction in the volume of business from St Ives, where he has several large customers among main motor dealers. "I'm usually very busy at this time of year, but it has been very quiet," he added.

It is the second lengthy closure of the Low Road in two years. On the previous occasion it was for construction of £5million flood defences at the St Ives end of the road. The village has about two dozen retail businesses, many of which successfully applied for compensation from the Environment Agency for the damage to their trade.

But, as a highway authority with a statutory duty to maintain the roads and structures, the county council cannot match the EA's largesse.

Spokesman Hannah Gregory told the traders: "We do a lot of necessary road closures, and we can't set a precedent. It would cost thousands of pounds that we don't have. But there are other ways we can try to help, such as co-ordinating and managing publicity to remind people that Fenstanton is still open for business."

Contractors Jackson Civil Engineering has offered a contribution towards newspaper advertising that CCC has agreed to co-ordinate.

The problem the traders face is more of perception than reality. Other than in the morning peak when the A14 junction at Galley Hill is often congested because of its peculiar geometry, the diversion probably adds no more than two minutes to the journey time from St Ives or the Hemingfords.

But it is clear from the evidence of the impact on village traders' takings that that is not the view of many of their customers, particularly those who are elderly.

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