Commuters and shoppers face long detours and delays
Businesses have reacted angrily to plans to close a main route into Tunbridge Wells, fearing a loss of trade worth tens of thousands of pounds.
Detours would also push 16,000 extra cars, vans and lorries through villages each day, and mean potentially long delays for commuters and shoppers trying to get into town.
The A267, known as Frant Road, is the main route connecting Tunbridge Wells with villages and towns to the south, as far afield as Cross in Hand, near Heathfield.
However, from Saturday [October 22] East Sussex County Council plans to close the busy thoroughfare between Church Lane, Frant, and the Wadhurst Road for nine days, both ways, for 24 hours a day. The resurfacing work will cover a stretch of road just over half a mile.
The announcement has been met with dismay from both commuters and local businessmen, one of whom has threatened legal action if the closure goes ahead.
Richard Burrell, who has been the landlord of the Abergavenny Arms since last year, described the plans as ‘madness’.
The pub is on the closed stretch.
He told the Times it could cost him as much as £35,000 in lost trade, while he would still have to pay for staff wages and general upkeep.
“It is undue hardship and I have been taking legal advice on the issue,” he said, adding the improvements could go on ‘far longer’ than the nine days scheduled.
He has taken particular issue with the supposed need to close the road both ways, arguing that the reason he had received from the contractor, stating it was necessary due to the need to accommodate a digger, ‘did not stack up’.
“There are roadworks being carried out by the gas company near the speed camera as you enter the village and they have managed to close just one lane and have used traffic lights.
“I was told that if a lane is smaller than 1.5 metres, then both have to be closed as the digger takes up too much space. But I have since measured the lanes and at no point do they fall below that width.”
It is this technical point that Mr Burrell believes may give him the chance of being successful if he takes legal action.
He is not the only one who looks set to feel an economic impact from the closure. Roger Keen, the proprietor of Frant Stores, said he could lose over half his business during the period.
“It will definitely affect us, 100 per cent. People will not be able to get here, and they will not be able to even park close by,” he said.
Mr Keen believes there has been a lack of consultation on the issue, and said he was only made aware of the proposal on October 13.
“The council have known for months. I heard they all met the other week to talk about it, so why did they not tell us earlier?” he said.
“I am going to probably lose between 50 and 60 per cent of my trade and will have to deal with spoiled stock.
“I understand it needs to be done, but why can they not do it through the night?”
Greg Elliott, landlord of The George Inn for the past ten years, confirmed the road closure will ‘obviously have an impact’ on the pub, but he would not ‘stand and moan’ about it.
“We have made contingency plans, such as putting up a sign on the Bayham Road. There is no point fighting it. It needs to be done and at least it is happening during a quieter trading period and not during July or August.”
One councillor argues the works are necessary and would have to be done sooner or later.
Jo Howell, who represents Frant at Wealden District Council, said: “The road has many issues because there has been no major work on it for many years and this needs to be resolved at some point.
“We will try to make sure that any negative effects will be minimised.”
An East Sussex Highways spokesman said: “Our staff need enough space to be able to carry out the work safely, which means we will have to close the road in both directions.
“We did deliver letters to properties in the affected area two weeks before the work was due to begin, which is a standard period of notice for these kind of roadworks.
“We will always allow pedestrian access to residents and customers of businesses. Where possible, we will allow vehicle access.
“However, the diversion route may need to be used on occasion. We will be putting up signs to make motorists aware that businesses in Frant are open as usual.
“We have been speaking to business owners and will be meeting with them to discuss their concerns, and to see if there’s anything further we can do to minimise disruption.”