Traders on Railway Street in Lisburn city centre say they could be forced to shut up shop as ongoing roadworks in the area have caused a drastic drop in footfall.
NIE is currently upgrading underground cables and a number of other utility companies are due to complete works in the area over the next couple of months, ahead of the ‘Lisburn Linkages’ public realm scheme.
The works started in November and then stopped for several weeks over the Christmas period before getting under way again in early January.
While they recognise that the work has to be done, some business owners on the street say the loss of custom is causing them serious financial hardship.
Helen Wilson, who runs the Little French Barn gifts and furniture shop, said her business relies on passing trade and people being able to park outside her shop.
“They have cut off every car parking space from here to the mall. There is absolutely no parking outside the shop, I might as well be closed,” she said.
“In January I’m usually quite busy in the shop, but this year it’s been a disaster. We are losing a fortune. They are going to be here until April apparently. It’s crazy.”
Helen, who has been in business for four years, says she pays £4,800 a year in rates and is “at the end of her tether” with the current situation.
“You phone up the rates people and they won’t give you any help, you phone the council and they say it’s nothing to do with them and the work has to be done. We realise it has to be done, but we are getting absolutely no help whatsoever.
“I don’t think we should be paying rates for this. This is actually going to close me down. I will be closed by April if I keep going the way I’m going. And it’s not just me, other businesses are in the same situation,” she added.
Derek Robinson, owner of Cycle Zone, said his trade has fallen by “at least 40 - 50 per cent” since the works began.
Describing it as “a dire situation” for local business owners, he commented: “There is zero footfall. There is no parking and the footpaths have been blocked. It’s been terrible. It’s been going on since November and they’re going on until April apparently.”
Claiming that the council “don’t really care”, he agreed that there should be some sort of rates rebate or other financial help for businesses that are being adversely impacted by the ongoing works.
Another Railway Street business, Maks Blow Dry Bar, used its Facebook page to brand the ongoing works “a fiasco”.
“The fact that the local council has agreed to have yet another two companies (BT and another) to come along shortly after to dig up the same street to lay down their own lines on separate occasions is a fiasco... why not have the three companies lay their lines etc at the same time?,” the post said.
Responding to business owners’ concerns, a spokesperson for Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council said the ongoing infrastructure upgrade works are necessary “to ensure the needs of the city continue to be met.”
Clarifying that permission to carry out utility works and the approval of traffic management solutions is provided by the Department for Infrastructure, the spokesperson stressed that efforts have been made to ensure the utility companies co-ordinate their work in order to make the least possible impact.
“The council is acutely aware of the frustration by business owners experiencing disruption due to the current utility works and will continue to do all it can to minimise disruption going forward,” she said.
“Given that the upgrade works are not prolonged and there still remains access to thresholds throughout the works, compensation is not applicable through this type of contract work. Any rate relief would be a matter for Land and Property Services to consider.”
Evan Morton, President of Lisburn Chamber of Commerce, said it was disappointing to hear that city centre businesses are suffering due to the ongoing works.
“The impact of roadworks creates challenges for small businesses in particular, and reduced turnover can have serious consequences,” he said.
“The Chamber would suggest that any concerned business checks out their business insurance policy for cover relating to business interruption.”
Shirley Devlin, NIE Networks Customer Relations Manager, for the area said work to upgrade the cable network is due to be finished by mid February.
“We have taken measures to reduce disruption to customers such as carry out excavation overnight. We are also working in sections to ensure that the majority of car parking spaces on the street remain available,” she said.