Roadworks see fish sales go up in smoke

The owner of the oldest smoke house in the country fears he may have to close his doors because of roadworks.

It has seen two and a half centuries of fish, sawdust and smoke.

And while the three may not sound like a savoury combination, the results are magical for fans of the Old Smoke House in Lowestoft.

The oldest smokehouse in the country has been going since before the refrigerator was thought of, when smoking was the most practical way to preserve the catch from the town's fishing fleet. At 250 years old, it is a remnant of the days when there were 200 others in the town. Nowadays there are just three.

But now owner William Buckenham fears he may have to close his doors - not because of changing tastes, or falling catches, but because of roadworks. A combination of schemes has resulted in gridlock at times in the town and discouraged shoppers.

Mr Buckenham's business in Raglan Street has been hard hit. In the run-up to Christmas, usually his busiest time, things are disastrously quiet.

Normally by now he would have taken orders for 600 to 700 sides of Christmas smoked salmon, but his order book stands at just 20.

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He said: "I have never known it this bad before. This is totally the worst I have seen it in 10 years. It has affected about half my turnover since work started. The cars cannot get in or out of town. People are just deciding not to come into town to go shopping and they are going to Yarmouth or Norwich instead. These last few weeks have been the worst. I has hoping it would pick up at Christmas, but I haven't had the Christmas orders coming in because people aren't coming into town."

Mr Buckenham and his wife Carol took over from his father more than 10 years ago and the shop has been in the family for 50 years. They do things the traditional way, and interested visitors can see herring hanging from the timbers in the ceiling as they slowly absorb the sawdust smoke. It is a scene that may not last long - the works are due to finish by Easter, but Mr Buckenham doubts that he can survive until then.

He said: "I have been spending the money in the bank, but you can only do that for so long. I don't think we can manage until Easter. That will make it a year since the work started.

"It is a combination of all the projects but the Sunrise scheme is the worst. It is that which has closed all the roads around the seafront."

Paul Moss, project manager of the £14.7m Sunrise regeneration scheme, said: "We cannot do work of this volume in the time frame available to us without causing some disruption. We are trying to keep disruption to a minimum and get them done as quickly as possible before the summer season.

"These works are funded by European money which does not include compensation for businesses affected. If a business is able to prove the work has directly affected their business they can apply for a business rate reduction.

"They have to do that while the work is going on and it is a case of providing three years' worth of invoices and accounts to show have they been affected."

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: "Works are done as quickly and sympathetically as they can be. We are not in a position to pay compensation for loss of trade."