‘There is no passing trade and it has totally messed up the town’ - Dereham traders’ fury at roadworks

A view of Dereham Market place showing the current roadworks. Picture: Matthew Usher. A view of Dereham Market place showing the current roadworks. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Thursday, March 6, 2014
8:15 AM

Furious Dereham businesses are counting the cost of gas main work in the town centre, with some estimating losses of half their expected trade.

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And while their takings suffer they are saying a “lack of urgency” by National Grid is further compounding the misery.

Work started on February 17 in the Market Place to replace existing metal gas pipes, which have been in use for many years, with modern hard-wearing plastic pipes that are designed to last for at least 80 years.

National Grid said it was sympathetic to local businesses, and that the work, which has closed the road to southbound traffic, was on schedule to be completed within six weeks.

But, just two weeks in, traders in the shops and on market stalls have described the effect as “devastating”.

Carol Stubbs, who runs Dereham News with husband Mark, said the work was hitting them hard, especially first thing in the morning when trade was noticeably down.

“It’s just chaos and there is no sense of urgency,” she said.

“First thing in the morning it has been quite devastating. We open at 5am because the demand for us is normally there, but now people are not coming through town at that time. It has had a huge impact. I think people are stopping at petrol stations instead or getting what they need at their destination instead of passing through Dereham. I think we probably lost between £2,000 and £2,500 in the first week.

“You can see the difference when you look at the parking spaces in the Market Place – there are 15 spare at the height of the day when normally people are squabbling over them. The effect on the town is dreadful.

“I understand that you don’t want to rush it when you are handling gas but to take a week for two men to dig seven holes is ridiculous. You need to chuck people at it and get it done. We are trying to get out of a recession and for this to happen now is devastating.”

At Tuesday’s market, stall-holders echoed her views. Paul Chapman, of Orchard End Nursery, said trade on his plant stall was as bad as it was last March, when the weather was the coldest on record.

“It is difficult to put a figure on it but we should be coming into our busiest time and the last two weeks has been affected by the roadworks,” he said. “We are not taking the money we would expect to on a lovely day like today. We appreciate the work has to be done but no-one would mind if they just got on with it.”

Sarah Watts who runs a coffee shop, Smarter Café, from the back of her Smart car, said her takings were less than half what they should be and blamed some loss of trade on moving the bus stop at the War Memorial end of the road to Cowper Road.

“A lot of my customers come for a coffee while they are waiting for the bus, but that has gone,” she said. “And who wants to sit here and have a coffee with this noise and the smell of gas? There is no passing trade and it has totally messed the town up. In two weeks this is the first day I have seen any real work being done.”

Miles Whitehair at fruit and vegetable stall CC Wells said the town was “very, very quiet” while socks and underwear trader Paul Bardsley said: “Trade has been terrible. People are staying away from town and my takings are 30pc down.”

Stephen Cross, of Dereham Chamber of Commerce, said he accepted that the work had to be done but was concerned if it dragged on over the stipulated six weeks.

“It is a nuisance and I am disappointed at the number of men on the job so I think National Grid has missed an opportunity to speed the process up,” he said.

A spokesman for National Grid said work was on schedule to be completed in the six week period.

She said: “We are sympathetic to local businesses and we realise it is frustrating when roadworks are in a town but at the moment we are on target. If we were to fall behind we would look at our resources but it seems to be proceeding to plan. There has been a lot of preparation work before we start inserting the new gas main into the old pipe.”

She said there was compensation available and businesses need to ring 0800 096 5678 to get a claim pack sent out.

nHave you been affected by National Grid works? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk.

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